How weird is the Saw franchise? Subsequent sequels have built upon and eventually twisted the narrative of James Wan’s first – and still best – entry beyond repair, throwing its ever-expanding mythology into a time-warped blender while trusting that audiences would keep up. For the most part this worked because horror audiences tend to like playing the long game. It also helped that a new installment popped up every October like clockwork.
So how does the newly-revived narrative hold up? It doesn’t. But when it comes to these Saw films, I don’t actually need them to make sense in any larger framework. I’m along for the ride. The movies are constructed in true jigsaw fashion so that once the final piece snaps into place, you finally see the full picture. Whether or not what you see has any real meaning is almost beside the point. It’s all there. Still, the Spierig brothers’ Jigsaw manages the relatively impressive feat of playing around with the existing fractured timeline conceits of previous entries while also ignoring them altogether. To say anymore on that subject would be giving the game away. But, again, all the pieces fit.
It’s certainly the best-looking Saw to date. Someone’s been pumping some blood to this series and it all shows up on screen. It’s almost perverse at times just how good this movie looks, with the warm sunset tones and cozy bars standing in for the grimy, harshly lit interiors and grainy film stock we’ve come to expect. And as per usual the film is loaded with familiar genre faces, all of whom are solid and know what kind of film they’re in. It all works to create the illusion that you’re watching a much better movie than you actually are, the downside of all this being that Jigsaw is also the least essential entry in the series up to this point.
In any new Saw feature, the main attraction is always going to be the convoluted death traps that make up the gauntlet of Jigsaw’s games. Jigsaw dreams up enough of these to keep up some momentum, but where the Spierigs continually flounder is in the cross-cutting narrative that tries to match the race against the clock detective story with the more inelegant goings-on with the game’s players. This is too bad because both stories have enough going on to make them worthy of the series, but ultimately neither gets enough space to breathe or to make much of an impression. Worse, this is easily the silliest and least “scary” of any of the Saw films. Serving up some downright beautiful images of gore and carnage can’t save your movie if they’re in service of a story that kind of isn’t going anywhere. And while the final reveal works to both explain and potentially reboot the franchise – as well as tack on its own version of these films’ ongoing twisted morality play themes – it goes almost a step too far in making its own argument that it lands all the way back around on the side of being ridiculous.