Love or hate the Saw franchise, there’s something kinda admirable about how it established itself as an annual Halloween feature in the 2000s and didn’t succumb to a lot of the same traps that other overfranchised horror properties often do. The various installments vary wildly in quality, but the film retained a continuity between films that, if not always consistent, always consistently retconned what it needed to serve whatever weird new twist the filmmakers had come up with. And, of course, the traps remained creative and sometimes the stories even served a purpose beyond just acting as a vessel for that much-derided torture porn. Jigsaw is a return from a seven year hiatus for the franchise, and for better or worse, it doesn’t miss a beat in recapturing the spirit those first seven films.
Jigsaw is being marketed as a reboot for the franchise, consisting of new characters and new traps, but it would probably be more genuine to think of this as Saw VIII. It has been several years since the last Jigsaw murders when a new game seems to be in progress, with police finding bodies where the victims have suffered great violence and have had a puzzle piece-shaped piece of skin flayed away. However, the original Jigsaw has been dead for years, so there must be some alternative explanation for why the games have resumed. Meanwhile, we watch a group of victims navigate Jigsaw’s array of traps in a secluded barn.
There are a number of twists that won’t be terribly surprising if you have any familiarity with the previous films—or an eye for apparent plotholes—but on the whole the narrative holds together as a relatively compelling mystery narrative with some gruesome ultraviolence thrown in for good measure. It’s a movie that takes its internal mythology and plotting seriously, but is still self-aware and silly enough to have a character, at the discovery of Jigsaw’s calling card, proclaim “Jig-fuckin’-saw.” The traps are twisted as they ever were, and if you are only in for the spectacle, there’s one scene in particular with a funnel of whirling blades that won’t disappoint.
But, being a Saw movie, Jigsaw also suffers from some of the franchise’s recurring issues in the basic narrative construction sense. Not all of those plotholes I mentioned earlier are sealed over by the end credits, with one in particular concerning a bullet that makes absolutely no sense even upon cursory examination. Furthermore, characters have no dimensionality beyond their plot purpose, with none of them being memorable for anything beyond the part they play in the film’s twists; they may as well be named Red Herring 1, Red Herring 2, Probably The Bad Guy, Not-So-Surprising Cameo, and Victims 1-5. This lack of attention to detail also shows up in how the film lacks connective tissue between major revelations, where we aren’t given enough information to understand why characters are behaving in a certain way or are suspicious of one another until after those actions cease to matter. This is a movie that asks you to accept things as they happen just because they are, and the promise of whether those moments will be explained is inconsistently fulfilled.
But that’s kinda what makes a Saw movie a Saw movie, and I’m sure if this spawns a line of new installments that those plotholes will serve as fertile ground on which to retcon new mythologies. Saw might just be a franchise stronger than any single one installment, and consequently while Jigsaw is a perfectly serviceable entry, it doesn’t bear scrutiny on its own. If you like the previous seven films, you’ll probably like this one, but unless you’re already a disciple of Jigsaw, you probably won’t find a lot to enjoy here.