After seven years away, I was really hoping that Jigsaw -- the first new installment in the Saw franchise since Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (not the final chapter) -- would return to series back to someplace original and interesting. After a one-a-year string of sequels that succumbed to franchise fatigue, churning out the same story and execution in one grim torture-filled mystery after another (except for you, Saw 6), it was clear that the creative team behind Saw had run out of, well, creativity. The series ended on a real whimper with The Final Chapter, the low point in the franchise and proof that it was time for Jigsaw to hang up his mini cassettes. So when it was announced that the franchise was getting a restart with Jigsaw, the question became: why now? Do we need Jigsaw back? Have the people steering the ship come up with something brand new to say about the biggest horror franchise of the 2000s? Or is the motivation for bringing John Kramer back to the big screen simply, as the cynics might suspect, only money?
The answer, it seems, is pretty much "it's money." I can't accuse Jigsaw of being only a cash grab, as it appears to exist in order to kickstart a new series of sequels -- sequels that are designed to make money. But, hey, that's the goal of most modern movies, so I'm not going to hold that against Twisted Pictures anymore than I would hold it against Marvel Studios or Pixar when they constantly sequelize their properties. My issues with Jigsaw are not that it wants to turn a profit. My issue is that the movie isn't strong enough to make me want to pay for the next one.
So, elaborate traps? Check. Detectives trying to solve the case? Check. Lots of screaming? Check. Intense gore? Check. Questionable performances? Check. This is a Saw movie through and through, for better and for worse. Fans hoping for more of the same ought to be satiated; audience members like myself, who were hoping that the time off recharged the batteries in this franchise and gave the filmmakers time to find a new approach to the same material, are bound to be disappointed. It's especially disappointing considering that Jigsaw is directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, the Australian brother duo responsible for Undead, Daybreakers, and, most recently, Predestination. Even their less successful efforts have been interesting and inventive, so I got my hopes up in learning they were directed this new installment. Surely they would bring something new to a franchise that has needed something new for a long time. Sadly, no. It's Saw business as Saw usual.
The acting has never been a strong suit of the Saw series, going all the way back to the performances of Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, and Leigh Whannell (who, in his defense, was primarily a screenwriter at the time and has gotten much better as an actor) in the first movie. That's no different here. Callum Keith Rennie is a welcome presence in anything, but in Jigsaw seems to be doing a parody of a grizzled cop. Within seconds of him speaking on screen for the first time, I knew that leading man Matt Passmore was an Australian actor attempting to pass for an American by way of a questionable accent. I have no idea if I knew this because of something about the way he spoke or if I have just come to understand that Aussies-as-American are a staple of the Saw movies going all the way back to Leigh Whannell. There's no one who's as actively awful as, say, Scott Patterson is in IV and V (sorry, Luke), and Laura Vandervoort probably acquits herself best as one of Jigsaw's potential victims, but it's a bummer to watch this entry make so many of the exact same mistakes as the previous movies. This was a chance for new blood, so to speak. Instead, it's just more Saw.
I will say this: if there is a sequel, it really needs to be a Fast Five-style entry in which all of Jigsaw's living proteges compete with one another to see who can create the best traps and kill the most people. And both the contest and the movie need to be called Jigsoff. Your move, Hollywood.