Fright Fest 2017 Review #14 – Jigsaw (2017)

The laser of blue evils

Subgenre:  Torture Porn

Summary:  Years after John Kramer’s death, a copycat stages another one of his brutal death games.

Review:  Rejoice!  The Saw series has now joined the ranks of Friday the 13th, Final Destination, and A Nightmare on Elm Street as a horror franchise that blatantly lied about that whole “final chapter” thing.  But Jigsaw is a relatively mild offender, considering that the producers at least had the decency to wait seven years before making it.

It’s been a long time since the last Jigsaw (and Jigsaw-aping) murders, but it appears a new copycat has emerged when detectives discover corpses bearing the killer’s calling card.  Meanwhile, five strangers find themselves in an elaborate house of horrors, guided through increasingly gruesome challenges by an all-too-familiar voice.

In other words, it’s a classic Saw setup. Not that that’s a bad thing – far from it.  Jigsaw wisely uses its distance from the rest of the series to its advantage, avoiding the impossibly tangled overarching plot that sunk the original franchise’s later installments.  The movie knows why we’re here – to see what twisted torture devices it’s come up with this time – and mostly does a good job keeping its focus on them, though the detective storyline, as always, feels obligatory.

So, how does the game stack up this time around?  Pretty well, I’d say.  More than anything, it recalls Saw II, the series’ second best entry.  It’s not the most elaborately designed setup, but it’s appreciably straightforward and contains one or two traps that deserve mention among the series’ best.  Characters, as usual, are razor-thin, which makes watching them suffer more palatable, but creates precious little in the way of investment.  Even so, the movie chugs along at a nice clip, and there’s surprising restraint in the way it saves its goriest set pieces for the second half.  Another welcome addition is some moments of sick humor in a series that’s often been guilty of over-seriousness.

Despite these minor twists on the formula, Jigsaw delivers, for better and for worse, on nearly all the classic Saw tropes: the equal-parts clever and convoluted final twist – accompanied by an endless monologue by the killer, of course; the murders so periodic you could set your watch to them; the schmuck who tries to cheat the game and pays dearly; the cops who crack the case just in time to arrive at Jigsaw’s lair right as the game is ending; and so on.  But in a strange way, this predictability is Jigsaw’s greatest strength.  It works just as well – if not better – as a piece of horror nostalgia than it does as a fully formed movie.

The Verdict:  Sometimes you want to see a movie so magnificent that it redefines the very notion of cinema itself.  Other times, you want to see a person being lowered into a giant blender.  For those in the mood for the latter, Jigsaw doesn’t disappoint.  I give it six-and-a-half treacherous traps out of ten.

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