After seven consecutive Octobers of "Saw
" movies, the smash series begun by James Wan in 2004 seemed to have gasped its last blood-choked breath with 2010's "Saw VII
." Faced with an exhausted and contrived storyline, shifting audience tastes, and still-profitable but nonetheless diminishing box-office returns, Lionsgate made the wise decision to put a moratorium on the franchise. Seven years later, the idea of reviving John Kramer's (Tobin Bell) morality-based torture games didn't seem quite so tedious now that the marketplace is no longer saturated by this particular subgenre. At worst, the results would be a fruitless drink from an arid well. At best, it might have something deviously clever to offer, the passage of time allowing directors Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig (2010's "Daybreakers
") and writers Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg (2010's "Piranha 3D
") the chance to devise a story worth telling.
Fortunately, the latter is closer to the finished product's reality. "Jigsaw" doesn't reinvent so much as it manages to expand the lore of what's come before, doing so in a way that feels like a natural extension. Purposefully unpleasant and expertly intense, the film keeps one guessing with a crafty and deceptive script that flips expectations of where the story is headed. When done well, the "Saw" movies came close to perfecting the classic bait-and-switch twist, and this one is as inspired as any installment since 2006's series-best "Saw III
As medical examiners Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson) investigate the mutilated post-mortem corpse of what appears to be the latest victim of the long-dead Jigsaw killer John Kramer (Tobin Bell), a deadly new game has already begun for four sinnersAnna (Laura Vandervoort), Ryan (Paul Braunstein), Mitch (Mandela Van Peebles) and Carly (Brittany Allen)trapped in a meticulously designed farm of horrors. If John has been deceased for the better part of a decade, how is it, Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Detective Hunt (Clé Bennett) wonder, that his verified voice can be found on new recordings retrieved from the body? And how, for that matter, can his DNA be found under the victim's fingernails?
The possibility that Tobin Bell's cancer-stricken John Kramer is still kicking all these years later sounds patently ridiculous considering the past finiteness of his death, and yet "Jigsaw" succeeds at keeping the viewer guessing while finding a certain logic in its climactic revelations. If a few back-and-forth segues slow the momentum in the second half, there is plenty to be riveted by. The centerpiece games, forcing Anna, Ryan, Mitch and Carly to confront the awful mistakes and unforgivable deeds they've committed in their lives, are savagely suspenseful highlights. Chains pulling them toward electric saws, sharp farm equipment being hurled into a silo, a mystery syringe filled with acid, and a leg trapped in an ever-tightening coil are just a handful of the precarious situations in which they find themselves. Copious bloodshed, eviscerations, and gore galore follow. For those with strong stomachs and an enjoyment in cringe-worthy catharses, it's all quite skillfully orchestrated, keeping the viewer squirming and on edge. Does "Jigsaw" warrant a new onslaught of sequels? No, and hopefully that doesn't happen. As a one-off serving fans a nostalgic dose of a mid-2000s fad, however, it's just what the coroner ordered.