Wednesday , 13 December 2017

Jigsaw cuts new chapter in gory franchise – review

“I want to play a game.”

The man with a plan, who put a hacksaw in your hand, struck fear for many a year, forcing those who didn’t appreciate life to confront death. For seven consecutive years, from 2004 to 2010, the Saw franchise made the Halloween season its home, entertaining and horrifying audiences with its elaborate, gut-spilling, limb-removing, head-crushing traps and a serial killer who never actually killed. Now, after a several year hiatus, a new piece to the puzzle has been added as the Jigsaw Killer is back…..or is he? in the latest installment of the gory horror series, Jigsaw.

For those who are new to the Saw franchise, a quick recap may be in order, without giving away too much, as each film adds new layers to the complex story. John Kramer, aka, Jigsaw, was a man who took on the responsibility of teaching a lesson to those who had wronged him or whom he felt had lost their way in life. He did this, with the help of accomplices, by capturing these damaged souls and placing them in horrific traps meant to test their mettle and recommitment to life. These sophisticated contraptions gave their victims a choice – enact extreme bodily harm on oneself (or another) in exchange for escape and hopefully a new lease on life, or, face certain death. To give an arm or a leg for freedom, hmmmm.

“Live or die, the choice is yours.”

From the outset of this new film, we know we are in for a brand new Saw. It opens with an action chase sequence, which is a first for the series. Soon we learn that Jigsaw, though he, himself, met his demise a decade ago, or one or more of his followers, may be back, conducting games once again that ensnare their victims in grueling and torturous traps. We join several such individuals as they are put through a gamut of these ever-excruciating devices in a labyrinthine well-worn barn. In the outside world, the police and forensic scientists attempt to gather clues and put the pieces of the puzzle together. As bodies begin piling up, the race is on to find the killer(s) before more blood and body parts are shed.

Jigsaw is a welcome return to the horror franchise that brought the sub-genre that became known as torture porn to new and extreme levels. As gore-tastic as the films were, they aspired to much more, going beyond the standard of a masked, unstoppable killer dispatching victims one by one with nary a rhyme or reason. Here, the perpetrator of the crimes had a purpose, targeting his victims specifically for reasons that varied from a lack of appreciation for life or revenge for atrocities committed. And generally, those on the receiving end of the business at hand had a chance for redemption and ultimately, survival, though that rarely occurred. Even the ever present horror trope of the ‘final girl’ was done away with, as Jigsaw didn’t discriminate between sex, race or occupation.

Another aspect of the Saw series that set it apart from so many other horror franchises is the interlocking nature of each individual film. The producers made no qualms over the fact that these films were for fans of the series from the beginning. While this may have ultimately hurt the films’ run eventually (along with going up against a new kind of horror in the Paranormal Activity films), as newcomers weren’t likely to be had, it brought satisfaction to those who had followed it from its inception. It really was remarkable how each film tied together, with the end of one often leading directly into the next. Main characters would disappear only to return again in a later installment. Or a minor player in one film would become the lead in another. It was fascinating to watch the tale unfold, another mystery added as one was solved. And let’s not forget about those masterful reveals at the end of each picture, those ‘holy crap’, jaw-dropping (and jaw-ripping) moments that made you want to re-watch each preceding film again as you anxiously awaited the next.

“What is a life worth to you?”

Bringing Saw to the screen again after its 7 year hiatus is its production team of Oren Koules, Mark Burg and Gregg Hoffman, the latter who is still graciously credited as a producer despite his untimely death following the release of Saw II in 2005. Also serving as executive producers are Peter Block, Stacey Testro and original Saw creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan. Wan, who helmed the first Saw film, has gone on to further success, directing Insidious, both Conjuring films and Furious 7, and has lined up DC’s Aquaman as his next feature. Also coming back to the Saw fold are Kevin Greutert, who, after editing the first five films, and directing the last two, returns as editor here, and Charlie Clouser, who has composed the memorably tense music for every film from the beginning. Having all these Saw players on board again brings a level of continuity and helps to keep the franchise from running off the rails, which is vital for one that is so interconnected. Adding fresh blood to the mix are screenwriters, Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger, who penned the gore-iffic Piranha 3D, and the Australian directing team, the Spierig Brothers, who had previously done the zombie film, Undead, vampire actioner, Daybreakers, and time travel thriller, Predestination. This new writing and directing team do a great job of keeping this new Jigsaw in line with those that preceded it, while at the same time infusing new and exciting pieces to the puzzle.

“Scream, or don’t.”

The excellent cast is made up of some familiar faces and genre favorites. The lovely Laura Vandervoort is known for her portrayal of Supergirl on Smallville, an alien on V, a werewolf on Bitten, and as Indigo in the currently airing Supergirl on the CW. It’s nice to see her on the big screen after so many memorable TV roles. Matt Passmore as the lead forensic pathologist you may recall from the A&E series, The Glades. Hannah Emily Anderson, who has appeared on such shows as Nikita, Killjoys and Lost Girl is terrific as Passmore’s assistant, and one with a kinky obsession over Jigsaw’s endeavors. Rounding out the cast are Callum Keith Rennie (Battlestar Galactica, Californication) and Cle Bennett (TV shows, Flashpoint and Heroes Reborn) as police detectives on Jigsaw’s bloody trail, and potential victim Paul Braunstein adding a bit of levity to the proceedings. And it’s not a spoiler to mention that Tobin Bell, who played Jigsaw in the present and in flashbacks throughout the entire run of the franchise, also makes an appearance in some form or another here as well.

For those who are new to the Saw franchise, it’s not necessary to have seen the previous films. One can go into Jigsaw cold and still get caught up in the mystery and horror of the story as this chapter starts the saga anew. Those who have been with the series since the beginning will also be rewarded with more layers added to what is hoped will continue in future installments. Though the Jigsaw Killer may or may not be dead, his legacy lives on. Jigsaw is a welcome return to this twisted and bloody franchise. While it may not be for everyone, those who like their murder mysteries imbued with a blood-splattering mix of limbs and organs will be delighted once again.

— review by Brian de Castro

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