Five people wake up locked in a room, buckets on their heads, chains around their necks, sharp buzzsaws on the wall. A voice comes over the loudspeaker. It sounds like John Cramer (Tobin Bell), the confession-demanding serial trap-layer better known as Jigsaw. Jigsaw died years ago, in the third Saw film, but he left enough audiotapes and acolytes to power the franchise through 2010’s Saw 3D. The voice proclaims various priestly commands: confess one’s sins, give of thy blood. Then the saws start spinning, and the chains pull the prisoners ever closer.
This new reboot follows the kooky formula established way back in 2004. In the locked room, the captives do bloody, sharp-edged penance through vaguely Seussian death machines. In the outside world, law enforcement agents follow the bloody trail — and engage in telenovela-level soap operatics. The best performance in Jigsaw comes from Callum Keith Rennie (Battlestar Galactica, The Man in the High Castle) as a hardened cop with a shady past and a willingness to believe anything. There’s also a morgue doctor played by Matt Passmore, who was tortured when he was in the army, and he misses his dead wife. The doctor’s assistant (Hannah Emily Anderson) seems to enjoy the sight of corpses a little too much. What a wacky morgue this morgue is!
Jigsaw is directed by the Spierig Brothers, Peter and Michael. They’re best known for helming Daybreakers, an endearingly loopy trash pile from the vampire vogue of yesteryear. They bring an angle to this material that’s almost clever. The Saw series exploded into hot nonsense almost immediately — few things have needed mythology less. The violence in Jigsaw turns riotous so quickly. There’s a scene where Jigsaw’s prisoners are in a granary, see, and they’re being buried by grain, and then the grain stops falling on them — but then knives start falling on them!
There are a couple sequences like that, silly traps Rube Goldberg-ing out of control. Even sillier: Most of the law enforcement characters spend the whole movie asking, “Is Jigsaw alive?” or proclaiming, “Jigsaw can’t be alive!” Do you care? Seven years after Saw 3D, you would’ve expected a back-to-basics approach, but Jigsaw doubles down on the franchise’s twisty storytelling. It feels too long, and it’s only 90 minutes. Jigsaw’s lifecoach-gone-mad ruminations have never sounded less threatening: He is become mansplainer, destroyer of drama. But there are lasers. I liked the lasers. C