Running time 1hr 31min
I CAN’T imagine a more mistaken way to round off a mediocre Hallowe’en season than the release of a new Saw movie.
Sure, the brand is a guaranteed buster of box office blocks (and that, admittedly, must say something, a half-decade having elapsed since the last instalment in the series), but this marriage of tasteless splatter-sadism to Rube Goldberg-ian ingenuity, while novel in the early-Noughties, had lost its shine by 2007, at least; by 2017, I would’ve hoped we’d have grown out of this nonsense (and, of course, that Jigsaw, everyone’s favourite cancer-addled psychopath, would’ve run out of gruesome, intricate ways to knock his victims off).
Anyway, if you MUST know: Jigsaw is bright. Too bright. Like, wiped-down-kitchen-surface-after-a-raucous-adolescent-pizza-party bright. Newcomers might not notice the change, but one of the pleasures of the first few Saw films was in their embracing a dank, claustrophobic indie-horror aesthetic and staging long past the point when budgetary considerations needed to be accounted for. Sure, this is a series that rotates directors as often and frivolously as it does cast-members (hint: they die), but shenanigans behind the scenes are particularly evident in this eighth outing – it’s a Spierig Brothers film, and the Australian sci-fi enfants terribles are determined to ram the fact down our throats (and, this being Saw, force us to pull it out again, probably). Some of the action takes place outdoors; the torture dungeons look cleaner and more spacious than ever. Clearly, someone’s had the Grand Designs team in.
Once you’ve got over such artistic considerations (and I don’t believe I ever did), the confusion ends and the boredom sets in. Thankfully, Jigsaw is less dependent upon flashbacks and ludicrous police procedural fare than its predecessors (that’s hardly saying much), but it’s also among the most lacklustre of the entries thus far, with a plot that’s neither dense enough to demand our attention nor so minimal that it might merit kid-glove, so-bad-it’s-good leniency. Even Saw 3D, a cinematic nadir in every other way, had its sparks of malice and creativity; this follow-up manages the befuddling feat of being both an indisputably better movie and a decidedly drearier one. Highlights include an agricultural-themed kill-off and some nasty hijinks involving a hypodermic needle, but nothing comes close to acing that OTHER hypodermic needle set-piece from Saw II, and the passing of a decade has cost the reverse beartrap much of its raw terror.
Every Saw film had its niche, little touches that tried (and mostly failed) to salvage each one from total sameyness. Saw III drastically expanded the series’ narrative scope, inspiring in its successors a fetish for overcomplicated plotting and nonsensical ‘twists’; Saw VI was an outlandish commentary on the US healthcare debate. Jigsaw, in that most hallowed reboot tradition, endeavours to take the franchise back to gory basics, inadvertently exposing its Achilles heel. All those years ago, James Wan’s Saw sowed the seeds of its own downfall, finally realised here in a succession of flat, grisly, competently-directed murder sequences – like no horror series before it, Saw has rendered on-screen death and mutilation a mundane, even irksome spectacle. Roll on awards season, and let the REAL game begin.