One of the freshest aspects of the SAW franchise is that the films were an annual tradition. The films were intricately connected, feeling more like a serialized television show than a film franchise. But it was also that connection that eventually led to the downfall of the franchise – mired in its own continuity and bloodlust. It took seven years for a new sequel to be created. For a series that had most of its loose ends wrapped up so neatly, JIGSAW is a great entry point into the series for newcomers and a welcome return for fans of the series.
JIGSAW has a really tough balancing act. The film is a sequel, set 10 years after the events of the SAW films, but it also acts as a soft reboot – the only returning character from the original films is Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). There are a great number of Easter eggs in the film that longtime fans will enjoy, but the story is really a fresh start for the series. In longstanding SAW tradition, JIGSAW carries the same basic structure of the earlier films. There is one storyline that focuses on a group of people subjected to Jigsaw’s test, and another storyline that focuses on the police as they rush to stop Jigsaw. The immediate twist, though, is that Jigsaw is dead – in fact, he’s been dead since SAW III. But the film leaves no question that he’s behind the events of the film, leaving the audience and characters to question how he could possibly return from the dead.
The storyline that follows Jigsaw’s game was fairly strong. It’s usually difficult to connect to these characters, because the reason they’re in Jigsaw’s games are because they are not good people. Anna (Laura Vandervoort) is compellingly enigmatic, and Ryan (Paul Braunstein) is a great comic relief – something typically missing from the SAW films. But the mystery of why each character is there is enough to drive interest in this storyline. Instead of the typical ticking clock to compel the characters forward into the next bloody test, the characters are dragged forward by chains around their necks – which I actually liked because it creates a sense of intense urgency. I didn’t feel that the traps in JIGSAW were particularly memorable – but if the film relied too much on over-the-top traps, the narrative would have suffered for it. There’s actually a wonderful reason for the lack of ingenuity in the traps, and the film addresses it in a way that makes total and complete sense.
As Jigsaw’s game begins, the police scramble to determine who is behind the new wave of murders. Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Detective Keith Hunt (Clé Bennett) chase down leads and red herrings, focusing their attention on medical examiner Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and his assistant Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson). Of course, this is a SAW film – so everyone has secrets that lie hidden just beneath the surface. Ultimately, this makes everyone a suspect in the eyes of the audience – which only confounds things even more when it’s proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jigsaw has returned.
The mystery that floats through the film is really great. I’m a big fan of the series, and even I was completely perplexed. JIGSAW really does contain a great twist – one that is entirely satisfying. There’s also plenty of blood and gore in JIGSAW, but like the best SAW films, it’s never particularly gratuitous. Instead, the film prioritizes the narrative and twisted morality that make up the foundation of the series.
While none of the acting is especially memorable, in typical SAW fashion, Tobin Bell continues to be the complete embodiment of Jigsaw. He is absolutely riveting in this role, owning every scene he appears in with an almost gleeful undertone of malice in every line he speaks. Whether his appearance in this film is more to pass that baton, or whether he is around to stay – it’s difficult to say. On one hand, Tobin Bell is an outstanding actor and every appearance of Jigsaw feels like a treat. On the other hand, his appearances can be damaging to the other antagonists – because no one will be able to match his intensity. It’s a double-edged sword in the long run, but the fact remains that his inclusion in JIGSAW was necessary and it’s to the benefit of the audience.
JIGSAW is a great return to form for the SAW series. It sets up an interesting new storyline, and yet still retains the core of what made the SAW films so compelling. It’s entirely satisfying, if a little safe by skewing to the classic SAW formula. JIGSAW proves that there is still a lot of life left in this film franchise, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.