Seven years after Saw: The Final Chapter, the torture series has returned with a fresh title and a stale everything else. Provided a chance to reset from the ardent adherence to continuity that became more boring than intriguing by the end of Saw’s initial seven-film run, Jigsaw instead offers more of the same, only with less consequence and even fewer violent shocks. Despite a nifty piece of misdirection, also a series calling card, the film gets trapped in the same old tedium.
As these things do, Jigsaw involves five strangers awakening inside a macabre contraption, this time attached to chains dragging them towards a wall of spinning blades. This, of course, is just the beginning. Led by the tape-recorded voice of John Kramer (Tobin Bell), the infamous Jigsaw Killer, numbers are whittled down as the players make their way through an intricate series of traps set up in the buildings of a remote farm. Meanwhile, Detectives Halloran and Hunt (Callum Keith Rennie and Cle Bennett) are served up the mangled corpses of game losers as clues. Medical examiners Logan and Eleanor (Matt Passmore and Hannah Emily Anderson) help them connect the dots, very quickly and even more conveniently.
The question of whether Kramer, who was seemingly as cold and dead as the premise of a Saw movie way back in 2006’s Saw III, is somehow alive and killing again is asked early and often. It could be an interesting query, taking the symbols (creepy doll on trike) and backstory (vengeful cancer patient on a mission to teach life lessons) of a very human horror icon and blending it with the folklore of supernatural movie slashers. Nothing intriguing is done with this mystery, however, as Jigsaw grinds its gears with repetitive stretches of the detectives and medical examiners dissecting bodies along with plot possibilities.
Those possibilities are extremely limited, with the quartet of investigators the only four humans of importance outside of the farm. Evidence points strongly at two of them as either assisting the resurrected Kramer or continuing his work, and we know what that means.
The whodunit is uninspired, but the gory game is even more monotonous. Characters scream and bicker when faced with elaborate deaths, neither the people nor their demises conjuring interest. They’re all broadly sketched sinners we could never care about – either wishing for their escape or relishing their comeuppance, even as they’re ground up in a human-size blender or having limbs sliced off. Not that we ever need to care too deeply about horror film victims, but in Saw the cleansing is supposed to mean something. Here, it’s merely filling a requirement.
Directors Michael and Peter Spierig, who wrung originality from familiar concepts in the pensive vampire action film Daybreakers and the sci-fi thriller Predestination, are bound too heavily to obligation while working through an intricate, though nonsensical, script. The Jigsaw Killer is always a step ahead, but here the powers of preparation are ridiculous. Every contingency works way too perfectly, tape recorders are found at just the right time by just the right person, traps are set for specific characters late in the game when there’s no way to know they would’ve made it that far, and so on.
The seams of story construction are far too apparent, making Jigsaw an exercise rather than an experience. Everything works out cleanly and aside from some squirmy morgue-based viscera, the carnage is merely staged to lazily propel the story. What should be raw and messy, with some meditative morality peppered in, is organized to the point of narrative deflation and lackluster bloodletting.