Sunday, 29 October 2017

Film Review: For better and for worse, Jigsaw is very much a Saw film

There's a certain challenge that comes with making a reboot for a franchise that withered away and died seven years ago. Not only do you have to craft your own new story, make it worth telling and populate it with winning characters, you also have to recapture the tone of the original series without feeling immediately stale. The Spierig Brothers have presented us with Jigsaw, and while the film isn't a runaway triumph there's plenty here to appreciate if you're a longtime fan of the franchise. Fortunately I am, and so I found enough in Jigsaw to make the reboot worth my time. For those less infatuated with the Saw franchise's unrelenting grimness, this probably won't win you over.

An interesting narrative may not be high on Jigsaw's list of accomplishments, and neither is a roster of compelling new characters, but there is one element this film succeeds at masterfully, right off the bat: tone. Jigsaw immediately feels at home within the Saw franchise, and even though the brothers Spierig imbue their film with some welcome changes - the dingy green colour schemes have been dropped for something a bit brighter, for one - they know exactly what to leave the same. I feared a more modern Saw film would have Jigsaw's messages relayed on iPads, but the eerie cassette tapes and flickering old TVs remain firmly in place.

Even though it doesn't really try anything new or bold, there's something comforting about Jigsaw's determination to feel like more of the same. The Spierig Brothers, along with writers Josh Stohlberg and Peter Goldfinger, understand the franchise's somewhat niche audience and admirably don't water down their film to appeal to a wider market. They bring in just enough new touches to the same old formula that it recaptures the tone of the franchise perfectly without feeling like it could've just been made seven years ago as a direct sequel. In other words, if the Saw franchise had to be rebooted, this is exactly how it should've been done.

Admittedly it is frustrating that Jigsaw doesn't try to correct some of the faults of the franchise's weaker efforts. Saw IV and V were both plagued by woefully underwritten characters and lacklustre narrative frameworks, something that resurfaces again here. Granted, Jigsaw has the immediate and easy advantage of being the first film in seven years, meaning there's some glimmer of life behind its eyes. The characters on screen here have the potential to become interesting, but they aren't quite there yet. The Saw franchise hasn't really fleshed out a character since film three, but with new creative minds it would've been welcome to see some interesting new people again.

Jigsaw is less narratively complicated than other Saw films in terms of structure, but, much like most of the franchise, it relies heavily on its ending twist to pull everything together for a satisfying wrap-up. Is it a corker? Well, it's tough to say without spoilers - and for more reasons than one. Jigsaw's endgame works well to turn things you thought were plot holes into actual plausible elements, but in correcting these fake out flaws it turns up a whole new roster of its own - the location of the film's main trap house may just be the most illogical thing the franchise has ever served up.

But do we want logical narratives and complex characters in a Saw film? Well, it'd be nice if the franchise did see a return to the genuinely clever storytelling of its very first entry, but eight films down the line I'm content with some grim traps and a whole lot of bloodshed. Jigsaw's traps range from being simple and effective (a group of people, buckets on their heads and chains around their necks, pulled towards a buzz saw) to downright hilariously overblown (a man suspended from the ceiling, descending into a spiral of blades motorised by a bike engine). They bring back plenty of blood and guts and gore, but the simple ingenuity is lacking. I never thought I'd say this, but give me a reverse bear trap and a needle pit any day.

Jigsaw gets away with itself, but only just. As a reboot for a cult franchise it does fine, but as a film in its own right there's a lot missing here. With room for improvement and a new set of people behind the camera, though? I can see this franchise moving in the right direction again, should it get the chance. Give us some more interesting characters and simplify the story you're telling (seriously, the film's ending is a mess of people having connections with other people) and maybe, just maybe, Jigsaw really could take back Halloween. As a guy who has all seven films on DVD, even the ones he doesn't like, I think that'd be pretty damn great.

In A Sentence

Bringing back the guts but lacking the spark of the franchise's best efforts, Jigsaw is a satisfying if forgettable reboot for the once lost Saw franchise.

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