'Jigsaw': Film Review

Wasn't worth the wait.

The fiendishly clever killer appears to be back from the dead in this eighth installment of the hugely successful horror film franchise.

"How are you still alive?" a character screams to the titular villain in Jigsaw, the eighth installment of the hugely successful horror franchise. The answer, of course, is obvious. He's still alive because there's money to be made.

John Kramer, the endlessly inventive psychopath who serves as the central character in the long-running series, died five films ago. And the last, supposedly final installment, the lamentable Saw 3D, was released way back in 2010. But horror movie villains and the franchises in which they appear never really die. They're endlessly ready to be resuscitated and rebooted, especially if Halloween is just around the corner.

The Spierig Brothers, the Australian siblings whose credits include Daybreakers and Predestination, directed this edition which takes place 10 years after Jigsaw's death. But just because he's dead doesn't mean that he can't still make trouble. In this case, it means five hapless victims trapped in a farm rigged up with enough lethal Rube Goldberg-style homicidal contraptions to fill a dozen perverse theme parks.

Meanwhile, a series of mutilated corpses are discovered, each bearing the distinctive stamp of missing jigsaw-shaped flesh. Detectives Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Hart (Cle Bennett) are on the case, which doesn't go well when the suspect they're pursuing gets shot in the chest before he can provide any information. Medical examiners Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson) have their hands full dealing with the bodies, one of whom they refer to as "Buckethead" because his face was encased in one just before running into a circular saw.

The elaborate machinations with which Jigsaw torments his victims pale in comparison to the ones in the screenplay by Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger. The scenarists clearly exhausted themselves in their effort to make credible the return of the character played so vividly by Tobin Bell. Moviegoers are likely to feel equally tired after suffering through the film's convoluted twist ending. It's the sort that might have seemed awfully clever in brainstorming sessions but here mostly involves a character endlessly yammering on to make everything we've seen in the last 90 minutes vaguely explicable.

Nor are the various torture contraptions particularly clever. By the time two characters are threatened with the possibility of being buried alive in a grain silo, you get the feeling that Jigsaw is running out of inspiration. Even the hidden crimes they've committed, to which they have a habit of confessing under the right sadistic circumstances, are more mundane than usual for the series.

Considering the long amount of time since the last installment, you'd think that more effort would have been put into creatively reviving the franchise. But Jigsaw just seems rote and mechanical, with long stretches of its running time feeling like a police procedural or CSI spinoff.  

The film at least boasts some strong female characters, such as Anna (Laura Vandervoort), who proves the most resourceful of the would-be victims, and Eleanor, the pathologist who has a kinky fascination with Jigsaw.

Genre fans will be satisfied by the copious amounts of gore on display, with the viscera looking particularly impressive when blown up to Imax film proportions.

Production companies: Serendipity Productions, Twisted Pictures, A Bigger Boat
Distributor: Lionsgate
Cast: Matt Passmore, Tobin Bell, Callum Keith Rennie, Cle Bennett, Hannah Emily Anderson, Laura Vandervoort, Mandela Van Peebles, Paul Braunstein, Brittany Allen, Josiah Black
Directors: The Spierig Brothers
Screenwriters: Josh Stolberg, Peter Goldfinger
Producers: Oren Koules, Mark Burg, Greg Hoffman
Executive producers: Daniel Jason Heffner, Peter Block, Jason Constantine, James Wan, Leigh Whannell, Stacey Testro
Director of photography: Ben Nott
Production designer: Anthony Cowley
Editor: Kevin Greutert
Costume designer: Steven Wright
Composer: Charlie Clouser

Rated R, 92 minutes