Jigsaw Is Just Saw VIII, and That's Okay (Review)
Let's stop beating around the bush: Jigsaw is no reboot of the Saw series, but a flat-out sequel, attempting to H20 the franchise with a "ten years later" gap (seven in real-world time, so this is the future!), using only the parts of the existing continuity that serve the current story. That's just as well, really -- the original timeline wasn't just the equivalent of a serpent eating its own tail, but rather a serpent eating a hole through its midsection, regurgitating, tying itself in a knot and then Human Centipeding with a whole 'nother snake. Besides, it's pretty clear none of the remaining actors from the last installments actually wanted to return, save Tobin Bell, whose eighth movie in this series as John "Jigsaw" Kramer ties him with Robert Englund's Freddy Krueger for killer longevity. A neat trick, especially given that his character died in part 3 and was dismembered in 4.
The Spierig brothers (Undead, Daybreakers) are solid but not especially remarkable horror filmmakers; their biggest contribution to this Saw is to lose the industrial music-video filters and grimy warehouse setting, bringing in cleaner cinematography and locating the centerpiece traps in a barn, which feels a bit more traditionally Halloween. Aside from that, their movie hits all the familiar beats fans of the property are used to; anyone who's seen one of these before will have a good sense of when and how misdirection is being dropped. Yes, unlike in the Scream franchise, which is usually all red herrings, it is possible to figure out who's doing the manipulating if you really pay attention. That the scheme would be preposterous in real life is just another hallmark of how increasingly improbable the series became.
The theme of the traps this time around is confession, and it's a nice touch that we finally get back to the concept of ironic punishments that fit the crimes. It helps that the victims, despite having obviously heard about the Jigsaw Killer on the news at some point, are too stupid to just open up about their worst moral failings right away, but hell, if they did that, there'd be no money shots of blade cutting through bone, which is why you're there (we assume).
To vaguely hint at spoilers for a paragraph: it's great that Bell continues to provide the voice for all the traps, but a shame the progression of sequels never finds him a worthy disciple to really revive the franchise again. Shawnee Smith was fantastic while she lasted, but Costas Mandylor was a dud and Cary Elwes only agreed to return for the final installment (ha ha they sure tricked him!). Perhaps it's to keep people guessing or perhaps there simply aren't many available actors with Bell's instant charisma, but everyone else onscreen is fairly generic. The responsible party, once revealed in the trademark surprise montage, does have more camera magnetism than Mandylor, but the character's no more interesting than his Detective Hoffman was, and violates the rules already in a way that merits a personal retest if there's a part IX. End of mild spoiler allusions.
That said, this is a capable enough Saw sequel, definitely better than parts 4, 5, and 7. It lacks the timely hook of part 6's health insurance hatred, but it goes through the typical paces with sufficient enthusiasm to keep it from being a write-off.