Do actors really die? Their lives may end but with so much of it captured on camera and o-screen, you could argue that in way they’ll live forever through their works. Death isn’t exactly an obstacle on screen either. If your character dies in a film, they can always find a way to bring you back for a sequel if there’s money to be made from it. Colin Firth’s Harry Hart was shot in the brain during 2015's Kingsmen but still made it into The Golden Circle. Then there is Tobin Bell in Saw franchise. The terminal cancer sufferer who died in film 3 yet still managed to appear in films 4 through to 7. Now after a hiatus and a name change, the franchise is back for its 8th film.... but he couldn’t possibly come back again? Could he? For his sake, I hope not because the film isn’t great.
John Kramer aka The Jigsaw killer (Tobin Bell) has been dead for 10 years but when a new game and new marked bodies start turning up, the police wonder if they have a copy cat killer or if John Kramer is in fact still alive.
So the horror franchise that gave us 2 great films followed by 5 more average at best follow-ups is back to play another game. The rules here are simple. The game is not the problem; it’s the players. The Saw/Jigsaw Killer/death by booby trap concept will always be interesting no matter how ridiculous the setup and story gets as long as set piece games/kills stay at least vaguely creative. The reason why some of its films, like 2017s Jigsaw, don’t work is because the cast are so poor and so disposal that you just can’t care about the outcome. The whole point of survival horror is that as an audience we’re supposed to become invested in the idea of the characters surviving no matter how unlikely that gets. That just doesn’t happen here. Other than being mildly annoying, no characters caught up in these games have any form of personality or any reason to create audience engagement. This is made even worse when any information we do get about these victims is purely designed to justify their murder. Okay, you could argue that some of this is intentional. That would be fine if the typical police/detective character base that are trying to catch the killer and save the victims could be those likable and entertaining characters, to make us care about their purpose. If you take Saw 2 in particular, that film was made by the sit down battle of wills between Jigsaw and Donnie Wahlberg’s Detective Matthews. Instead all this Jigsaw has to offer is bunch of dull police and forensic types all trying to make us think one of them could be the new killer but they’re all so terrible, the outcome has almost no value. It’s like everyone’s audition was just to stare at someone a little bit awkwardly because that’s a good chunk of the film.
Jigsaw is nothing but a horror film for the sake of horror porn.... but in that respect, it does succeed. Despite being a 7th film offering a variety of death tricks and traps delivered is better than several previous entries with blood and gore sprinkled over everything like parmesan at an Italian Restaurant. There are a number of moments that will have you wincing, burying your face or laughing hysterically if you’re a therapy patient in waiting. There’s plenty of creative twists on the victims back stories and uses of technology upgrades. Do you remember the shotgun collar from Saw 3? Well here, you’ll get with high powered surgical lasers. The recurring set pieces throughout the film are the spikes on a heartbeat monitor keeping it from flat lining (like the Flatliners reboot did). Yes, in between you’ll have to suffer a lot of boring people dissecting every victim's body for the sake of it or trading awful buddy cop banter but it won’t be too long before the real game gets going again. This does mean that the story is a mess of mixed pacing among other issues and even after that all important big reveal, not everything will make complete sense (because it doesn’t). It’s also best to consider this film in isolation because there are a lot of clashes in continuity from the prior films and ever tangled/knotted/theown in a big pile on the floor back story of John Kramer.
If you need this film to be any more than bloody flesh=mangling kills from ever elaborate scenarios, then do not see it....but if that’s enough to make you happy, then have at it this Halloween. More than anything else, Jigsaw frustrates because it shows that the Saw franchise is still a game worth playing if done so properly. Now, further sequels look bleak..... this really could be game over.