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REVIEW: “Jigsaw”

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It’s been seven years since the “Saw” franchise ended its initial run. But now the Halloween tradition is back with a new entry, “Jigsaw”. Hoping to breath new life into the franchise, “Jigsaw” is a very different experience from previous “Saw” films but still offers some gruesome deaths and fitting sin-based games to satisfy the most basic of fans from the original series. While “Jigsaw” breaks little new ground, it manages to feel fresh and stylish making it a pretty divisive and, in some ways, frustrating little horror flick. Without further ado here is my review of “Jigsaw”.

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“Jigsaw” takes place ten years after John Kramer’s death and the end of his infamous games. A new game begins involving five new victims, challenging them to confess their sins to escape a series of traps after a runaway criminal activates a trigger during a confrontation with police led by a Detective named Helloran (Callum Keith Rennie). As bodies start showing up one by one with cryptic messages as each death occurs in the new Jigsaw game Detective Helloran is joined by coroners Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson) to try and crack the case. Details of each character surface throughout the film, leading investigators, and the audience, into a guessing game of who the new Jigsaw killer really is as Jigsaw’s new victims work to escape his latest house of horrors.

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Alright, so it’s obvious I am a huge fan of the “Saw” series. It’s always been a guilty pleasure of mine and considering the hype I made on my blog leading up to the new movie that should surprise no one. However, that doesn’t mean “Jigsaw” gets a free pass. In fact I went into this movie with an even more brutally critical eye than many other films this year, especially in the horror genre, and as a longtime fan of the series I do have to admit I was a bit underwhelmed. “Jigsaw” is not the same kind of movie we’ve become accustomed to from the past. Yes the traps are brutal and there is bloodshed but this is a much more held back and restrained movie than hardcore fans may come to expect.

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The problem with “Jigsaw” for me is that it doesn’t hold up to the gore, violence, and intensity of previous films and that could be because of a few different factors. Probably the most obvious is that this story is nothing new for anyone. We get a few of the trademark creative and over the top traps and moral lessons that come with them as well as a great mystery in its B-story that makes the film worth watching, but “Jigsaw” sadly fails to rise above any of its predecessors to reach new heights. If anything it’s a step behind some of the previous films, taking the same formula as past products with less bloodshed, fewer traps, and frankly uninteresting characters that makes it hard to invest in anything but the little violence we do see.

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Now that being said I DID actually enjoy “Jigsaw”, just not as a “Saw” movie. It was fun to try and figure out who did it in the end and how they were connected to John Kramer and we got some great red herrings along the way that made the final reveal all the sweeter. It really is one of those rare films that even though there are obvious answers in front of you the final reveal is still pretty shocking and satisfying. There’s also some great callbacks to the original “Saw” series and a few new details of what occurred behind the scenes make their way into the story to add some continuity to the project. Tobin Bell also returns as John Kramer doing some very great fan service to the longtime followers of the franchise even if his newest take on Kramer is a bit inconsistent with the character we’ve come to know. The coolest part about “Jigsaw” is I found myself frustrated by many details of the film as it played out, many of which would spoil aspects of the movie if I listed them here, but when the big reveal occurs at the end it all comes back around and makes sense. Even the smallest details finally fall into place in hindsight if you take the time to realize it meaning that, intentionally or unintentionally, “Jigsaw” comes off as a smart and complete story continuing a long tradition of “Saw” mind benders.

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That’s actually both “Jigsaw’s” greatest strength and its biggest weakness. Is succeeds as a great horror mystery, but not as the gory, fun, twisted blood fest we’ve come to expect from the “Saw” franchise. It is nice to see the filmmakers hold back a bit and avoid unnecessary violence in favor of more acceptable carnage, but surprisingly this takes away from the overall product mostly because it’s the eighth film in a franchise built on the concept of “there will be blood”. The filmmakers had two options, try to tone it down for a more controlled take on the story or bring the violence up a level to top the previous films. They chose to first option and the new approach left me torn between enjoying the more controlled and focused storytelling and missing the out of control mayhem that made the originals a guilty pleasure. And in all honestly the acting in this film is unmemorable and the story is not unique, so it’s the mystery and the mayhem that really make this movie worth watching and depending on which aspect of the series you enjoy more “Jigsaw” will either be really satisfying or a dull retread.

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As I said I liked “Jigsaw”. I didn’t love it, but the film was almost destined to be divisive in some way, shape or form. As a standalone movie I thought it was fun and brutal enough to qualify as a middle of the road guilty pleasure horror flick. As a “Saw” film however it’s pretty bland. It lacks the same punch that previous entries did with less gore and bloodshed and more mystery and sleight of hand. It does just enough to satisfy those familiar with the product while also presenting something interesting for people new to the franchise and even adds to Jigsaw’s legacy. It’s not a transformative film that takes many risks, but it’s also not a train wreck. It’s just a fun time watching Jigsaw and his followers challenge a new group of victims for our viewing pleasure. In the end, it’s a nice piece of fan service that doesn’t quite shine, but also still has bite to it. You can definitely see that the blade on the “Saw” series has begun to dull quite a bit, but after seven years it’s still great to see the familiar traps and gruesome games come to life again. Take it or leave it, “Jigsaw” is a nice bit of escapism that is sure to divide both hard core fans and casual viewers down the middle at the end of the day.

 

 

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