Dir. Michael & Peter Spierig (2017)
A new game has begun and all signs point to the reappearance of Jigsaw, who has been dead for a decade.
I didn't like this movie at all the first time I watched it. When it first came out, I felt that the film was largely disrespectful to the previous films in the series, largely because of the ending. In retrospect, especially after watching the entire franchise in order and re-experiencing Saw 3D immediately before watching this one, I definitely had to reevaluate my perspective as to how this one ranks in the pantheon. With a throwback premise that puts it more in line with the first several films, as well as a clever plot structure that allows for a new direction without entirely dismissing the old, Jigsaw is a worthy addition to the series and a damn good film as well.
Jigsaw follows Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore), a medical examiner who is trying to track down the most recent game after bodies with the familiar puzzle piece cut out of their skin begin appearing all over town. He begins to suspect Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) of the killings, and he starts out on a quest to prove Halloran is responsible for the killings while also possibly saving the people who are involved with the current game somewhere in town. As the past becomes present and old becomes new, new traps and clever twists abound.
Jigsaw is hardly the best film in the franchise, but it's a huge update from the previous film. The cinematography is leaps and bounds better, presenting the ambience of the first few movies while giving the audience some rad-as-hell traps and some interesting twists on the story. One of the new additions to the series, which has been mentioned in passing but never really delved into too deeply in the previous films, is that Jigsaw has received the same type of adoration that a lot of serial killers do in the real world.
There are online communities committed to studying his traps and the lessons he sought to teach, with some of the more dedicated devotees even building life-size replicas of his most famous contraptions. Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson), Nelson's fellow ME responsible for dissecting the victims, is one of them, and has amassed a huge collection of games past and present. It's not outside the realm of possibility that this could really happen in today's world of true crime aficionados and serial killer junkies. The community that idolizes serial killers would have a field day with a killer like Jigsaw, someone in whom they could put both their nihilism and their optimism in equal measure.
In pretty much all measures, Jigsaw is better than several of the films immediately preceding it. The traps are excellent, the actors do a great job throughout, and the noir aspects of the film are handled perfectly. While the twist at the end of the film (at least the whodunnit aspect) is not all that surprising, the masterful way in which the new series writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger flip the formula on its head is noteworthy. The brutal finale, featuring one of the more inventive gore scenes in the series, is a vast improvement over many of those from the previous installments.
While I wasn't a fan of the film initially (and I still hate that it doesn't end with the catchphrase "Game Over" like every other film), I did appreciate the attempt at an actual surprise and a reimagining of the villains in the series. Gone are Detective Hoffman and all of the other series mainstays that began to feel repetitive. Instead, Stolberg and Goldfinger do a great job of refreshing the entire series... which was pretty much immediately abandoned by 2021's Spiral, of course.
Who this movie is for: Back-to-basics Saw series fans, Twist enthusiasts, Serial Killer Stans
Bottom line: Jigsaw goes back to the old standard, eschewing the more recent convoluted stories for a neo-noir thriller with some hair-raising traps in the main game. The new writers and directors do a fantastic job of remembering why everybody loved Saw in the first place. While Jigsaw doesn't rank near the top of the list, this speaks more to the overall quality of the first several films than it does to any shortcomings this one may have. Firmly in the middle of the series, but again, not an insult to this one, because it's pretty damn good.