It seems odd describing Jigsaw, the eighth installment of the Saw franchise, as a great film, and yet it seems wrong to do otherwise for a movie that brought me so much joy. You see, I have never seen a Saw movie before this. Of course I was familiar with the premise, and I had skimmed the Wikipedia pages of a few of them (like I do for most horror movies instead of watching them) but I wasn’t fully prepared for the cavalcade of beautiful nonsense that would await me when I bought a single $17.50 ticket at a nearly-empty uptown theater on a Thursday afternoon.
For those who have not yet had the pleasure, this post will contain spoilers, but I assure you, knowing the “twist” will not ruin your movie-going experience. This movie is an art installation. It is meant to be experienced outside the normal bounds of chronology. It is, in short, a gift.
Here is a brief plot summary so we’re all on the same page:
Five people are trapped in a room with buckets on their heads in a Jigsaw torture chamber, being pulled by chains towards whirling circular saw blades. One of the guys is unconscious and can’t manage to free himself, but 4 of them continue through this elaborate Escape the Room that keeps prompting them to “confess” their sins. One of the girls dies from an injection of acid, and then one of the dudes dies from being lowered into a massive death spiral machine that isn’t explained. As each of the people were killed off from the game, we flash to the police detective and forensic investigator trying to solve the case, because the bodies (the unconscious guy’s saw guy, acid-death girl, other guy) are dropped in conspicuous locations, with hidden messages on them implying their deaths are being orchestrated by John Kramer, the original Jigsaw killer who died 10 years ago.
And so the forensic pathologist Logan, his goth assistant Eleanor, and the detective Halloran, try to track down Jigsaw, if he’s still alive. They figure out that the game is being played at this farm owned by Jigsaw’s wife, and try to sneak in, but Logan and Halloran get captured and Jigsaw-rigged. After faking his own Jigsaw death, Logan reveals that he is the one behind all of this and those scenes of those five people working their way through the torture chamber actually happened 10 years ago because hey, Westworld was pretty good and it was pretty fun in that last Sherlock episode how we got to see Moriarty for a bit. And so Logan was arranging this all along (the bodies the police were working on were just copycat deaths of the murders that took place 10 years ago; Logan just re-created the Jigsaw gameplan) and he did all of this to punish and kill Halloran because he’s a corrupt cop. The Saw machine splits open Halloran’s head like it’s slices of pie and Logan walks away.
So that’s the plot, but really, here is all you need to know Jigsaw: at one point, two of the victims are trapped in a silo, with grain pouring down from the top in order to drown them to death and one of them shouts, “It’s grain!”
Jigsaw is like Shakespeare’s best plays — it contains a textual richness that exists beyond the work itself. It deserves to be appreciated through analysis of the questions it raises. Questions like:
How much time does Jigsaw spend on each murder trap?
Not only is the murder game we see in this movie incredibly technologically involved, but also it’s also very elaborate. Unlike earlier movies where each person gets one personalized room/death trap, here the five unlucky victims go room-to-room through a farm with incredibly personalized and specific consequences for whatever seemingly unpredictable actions the victims take.
Like, the first “challenge” has them wearing buckets on their heads that only unlock if they make a voluntary blood sacrifice by cutting themselves slightly on the saws before they’re violently sawed to death. How does that technology even work? How does the machine know when the blood was voluntary or if it’s pre-death blood splattering on the floor? How does it know the difference between each of the victim’s blood? I know what you’re probably thinking: Jigsaw just watches on the video screen and manually saves each person as they make the sacrifice — I thought that too. But that theory doesn’t quite hold up when you realize that the blonde girl totally did her blood sacrifice by accident (the other girl literally yanked her away from the saw) and we learn later that Jigsaw actually didn’t want the unconscious guy to die — possibly because he didn’t think it was fair that he was unconscious. So why wouldn’t he have unlocked his helmet earlier?
The rest of the game has voice memos planted throughout that are specific to the people left playing, as if, like Willy Wonka, Jigsaw knew who would be left and exactly what sort of voice memo to record the night before and secretly plant underneath the floorboards or whatever. It’s choreographed with more attention to detail than a military wedding. He must have included endless contingency plans and alternate endings. Kudos to Jigsaw on pulling off an incredibly elaborate murder plan and inventing some great technology.
What is the cleanup like?
Not only did John Kramer, an old man with cancer, set up this extraordinarily involved death house, one imagines that he’s also responsible for the cleanup. This guy is so self-satisfied that he disemboweled petty criminals that it probably sustains him as he mops the blood from the stainless steel floor and wipes the guts off the blades before doing something with the dead bodies so he can set a new murder plan up again. Do we think Jigsaw reuses murder plans? I have to assume so because he doesn’t know that an audience is watching them. He’s just like; “I spent $14,000 and six months constructing this mechanized grain silo so I guess I should at least kill a few more heroin addicts with it.”
How does he track these people down? How does he know about them?
As we discover the backstory of the five Jigsaw victims (from 10 years ago), we learn that Jigsaw is punishing them for very specific crimes that seem like no one possibly could have known about. Like, one girl stole a woman’s purse, and it turned out the woman had asthma, and the inhaler was in her purse, and the woman died. How did Jigsaw possibly trace the asthma death of a random, middle-aged woman with a young girl who stole her purse and never got caught for it? Another one of the victims was being punished because when he was a teenager, he was standing up in his friend’s convertible, and the driver was like, “Hey man, get down from there,” and while the driver was pulling him down, the car crashed and all of his friends died and the guy lied to the police about what happened so his friends’ parents wouldn’t blame him. How did Jigsaw a.) hear about a teenage car crash and think, “I bet there was negligence involved” and then b.) uncover the true story that no one but the victim knew about? The other guy sold Jigsaw’s nephew a motorcycle with faulty brakes and then his nephew crashed and died. How could Jigsaw possibly know, as he claimed, that the guy was fully aware the motorcycle (which he sold for $600, so, come on) had faulty breaks? This is information that only an omnipotent narrator could possibly know.
Why involuntary manslaughter with moral grey code?
As you probably realize, these victims who were being punished through multiple death rooms before being ultimately murdered weren’t… you know… that bad. Sure they committed crimes, but why would Jigsaw set up this massively elaborate plot just to crack down on the moral gray area of involuntary manslaughter? Those are crimes for which a court would probably give them like, 5-20 years. (The exception, obviously, is the woman who smothered her own baby and blamed it on her husband, which no doubt represented a moment of psychotic break.) There have to be people more deserving of being cut apart by modified medieval torture devices. I mean, the punishment for the motorcycle breaks guy should just been tickets to go see a production of All My Sons.
What movie did Ryan think he was in?
Ryan is the guy who got his friends into a car accident when he was a teenager, and it seems as though he came directly out of a different movie in the best possible way. He is the only one who realizes this is a comedy. When four blooded victims make it through the first step (the fifth seemingly ripped apart before their eyes) he shouts, “Is this some bastard’s idea of a sick joke?” which is an incredibly takeaway after you were just being dragged by chains towards moving saws. And then the jigsaw puppet appears to inform them that they will all hang to death from the chains around their neck should they not complete his task. And Ryan, beautiful Ryan, goes, “No, that’s not creepy at all,” because perfect Ryan thinks this is the right time for a little sarcasm. Ryan does not understand this is a horror movie, but he fully understands he is in Jigsaw, the best comedy of the year.
Why did Jigsaw target Logan? And why save him?
I forgot to mention in that plot recap that the guy who was unconscious for the first murder challenge 10 years ago and seemed to die was actually Logan, the medical pathologist, and as the saws were cutting him up, Jigsaw decided to save him and take him on as his apprentice. Logan’s “crime” was that he was the hospital resident who accidentally mixed up Jigsaw’s X-ray and led to his cancer being misdiagnosed at first, which seems like a careless mistake, yes, but not one that deserves being ripped apart alive. But Jigsaw decides to spare him, either because he realized that his murder punishment didn’t fit the crime (which, you know, why couldn’t he have figured out before he tracked him down, kidnaped him, and chained him up?) or because he was unconscious when the instructions were given (which, you know, why couldn’t he have just not started the murder machine yet?)
So Logan spent 8 years married to his wife secretly working nights with Jigsaw?
Logan became Jigsaw’s apprentice 10 years ago, right after Jigsaw rescued him from the murder. We see them working side-by-side, learning all about mechanical engineering and working on their welding skills. But we also learn that Logan is really torn up about his wife, who was murdered two years ago when the film begins. So for eight years, Logan was working as a hospital resident before becoming the police’s leading forensic pathologist all while working nights at some old creep’s death farm, and his wife either never noticed or was secretly kind of into it.
Does every forensic pathologist also have a masters degree in mechanical engineering and infinite access to scrap metal and welding tools?
It’s not only Logan who’s a doctor who happens to also be really good at creating Jigsaw machines — we learn that his goth assistant is a Jigsaw fangirl and has a secret warehouse full of full-scale recreations of his most famous machines. I mean, good on you, girl, but these things seem really hard for a single person to construct!
How does Logan possibly have time to do his entire revenge plan?
If you’ll recall, the bodies that the detectives are investigating are not the characters we had been watching but new murders that Logan had staged in recreation, all part of an elaborate revenge attempt on Detective Halloran. So he had to clean up and re-build Jigsaw’s decade-old murder game, perfectly orchestrated so that the people died in the same way, in the same order. And then, as they died, Logan had to plant the bodies around the city for the police to find—first hanging from a bridge, then thrown off a building, then hanging from the inside closet of his goth assistant’s warehouse. How did he possibly have time to do all of that while also working presumably a 40-plus hour week during a very busy few days for a police forensic pathologist? We also see that he somehow — between inserting a chip into the neck of the body with a recording he made of Jigsaw’s voice, sneaking Jigsaw’s actual blood underneath the body’s fingernails, and sneaking up onto a local bridge to dangle a spooky body down—Logan also has time to grab a quick after drink with a coworker and visit her warehouse with her.
At one point in the movie, Logan kills one of the victims who ended up in a coma in his hospital and steals the body away. Then, the next day, when the mayor or someone tells the police to dig up Jigsaw’s body just to make sure he’s actually dead, the coffin actually contains the coma victim! So, at some point during this incredibly busy week, Logan snuck away from the lab so he could dig up a grave, swap two bodies, and rebury the coffin well enough so that the next day as they’re trying to dig up Jigsaw, no one is like, “Hey, this ground has been very freshly dug up.” He must have so much upper body strength.
He’s also simultaneously trying to frame Halloran for this — planting his bullets in a victim’s body, and leaving what looks like Jigsaw Jell-o shots in his freezer, which just adds another layer of scheduling.
And, throughout all of this, Logan is a single father! He’s raising his daughter on his own — we see him apologizing to a babysitter for having to stay a little late at work one night! Silicon Valley billionaires need to write books to sell at airports about how to maintain this man’s productivity schedule.
Why meticulously recreate a Jigsaw murder trap that no one ever saw or even knew about?
It’s established that those “10 years ago” murders were never uncovered. So why would Logan go through the trouble of echoing them exactly? But of course, that commitment to details in his pranks is why he’s the professional here.
Is this entire film actually a parable about sexual harassment in the workplace?
Corrupt Detecitve Halloran goes over to the goth lab assistant and goes, “What’s your story sweetheart? One of those kinky types, like a little pain?” which is incredibly inappropriate, especially at her workplace. And at the end of the movie, he gets his head split open like he’s a Demogorgon. So, sexual predators in Hollywood and beyond … beware, I guess?
Does Jigsaw think he invented the tricycle?
So during a flashback, we see the original Jigsaw looking out his window at his neighbors arguing, and we can see that on his lap he’s working on a design for the tricycle the Jigsaw puppet rides. This isn’t like a production design-type drawing that shows the set, or even the puppet on the tricycle. This is just an old man with cancer drawing a red tricycle. Why did he need to draw it? Couldn’t he just buy a tricycle? That’s not like a specialty item that he needed to design. Unless of course, this old, cancer-ridden lunatic believes that he invented the three-wheeled bicycle and was the first ever to fabricate it.
This film’s layers continue to endlessly reveal themselves. I can only hope someday the creators of this film will understand the joy they’ve brought to me — and the world.