On booby traps, red herrings, and the implicit question of why the motion-picture Jigsaw even exists
Director: Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig
Screenplay: Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg
Starring: Callum Keith Rennie, Matt Passmore, Hannah Emily Anderson, Clé Bennett, Paul Braunstein, Laura Vandervoort and Tobin Bell
Rated R / 1 hour, 32 minutes / 2.35:1
October 27, 2017
(out of four)
To say that Jigsaw is a bad horror movie - and even by the dubious standards of the Saw franchise, a bad Saw movie - would be burying the lede. Because while it is, unquestionably, both of those things, it is above all else an abominable cop movie. Imagine a public-access knockoff of a CBS procedural and you're still nowhere close. In its dramatic viability, it's like an episode of Angie Tribeca without the jokes ... or, maybe, just not aware of the jokes is a better way to put it.
It feels like someone collected the old, discarded ideas for Jigsaw Killer murder contraptions and then, realizing it wasn't enough for an entire movie, hastily jotted down an outline for a police investigation that would tie the whole thing together somehow. To say this movie - penned by Good Luck Chuck scribe Josh Stolberg and his Sorority Row writing partner Pete Goldfinger - is half-conceived and half-written would be overselling it.
You already know what's happening in one half of the story. A group of people wake up to find themselves caught in an elaborate death trap, which they can avoid if they follow their captor's tape-recorded instructions to a T, both an act of self-preservation and one of penance for past sins that ol' Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) has become aware of. Most of them will fail this test and die brutally and painfully.
Like I said, you know that part already. It's on the other side of things that Jigsaw truly reveals itself. The bodies of each victim, see, start popping up all over town, with flaps of skin and flesh cut out, cleverly, in the shape of little puzzle pieces. But wait, one might ask, assuming one watches these movies for the purpose of narrative continuity and basic sense. Didn't the Jigsaw Killer die in, like, Saw 7 or Saw 8 or Saw 6 or something? Well. Here's the thing: Yes.
So, we're told, this must be a copycat ... even though we can clearly hear Jigsaw's voice delivering those dastardly instructions and moral pronouncements in that booby-trapped barn where Anna (Laura Vandervoort), Ryan (Paul Braunstein), Carly (It Stains the Sands Red's Brittany Allen) and Mitch (Mandela Van Peebles) have quite ceremoniously found themselves. We don't see his face, though ... could these tapes have been pre-recorded? Did he really think this far in advance? Hmmmm. Either way, we are not to worry: Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) is on the case. If there's one thing Detective Halloran is against, it's psychopaths who elaborately murder a bunch of people, die, then come back from the dead to elaborately murder a bunch of people again. That is a big no-no in Detective Halloran's book ...... if he had a book, that is ...... which he does not, because dammit, he plays by his own rules. "You've gotta play this one by the book, Halloran!" the police chief barks at him. "No," says Halloran. (This scene does not appear, nor is there a police chief character in this movie, but I'm going to infer the presence of both.) (This scene is now canon.)
While somehow managing to avoid giving up his badge and his gun, Halloran - armed with neither a book nor a first name - gets to work trying to unravel this latest set of clues and riddles put in place for him either by a miraculously alive Jigsaw Killer or an alarmingly accurate copycat. (Or a twin brother.) Halloran's only lead is the comatose Edgar Munsen (Josiah Black), a career criminal with whom he shares a history, and who seems to know something about what's going on with these new Jigsaw killings.
But Edgar's not talking, at least not yet. On account of being in a coma.
Which leaves the investigating up to Halloran and his two forensic pathologists. Together, the three immediately begin to inexplicably suspect each other of being the Jigsaw copycat. Yeah, it's that kind of movie. Halloran is a good cop, but he's dirty, they say. (He's kinda like the cop from Insomnia, only not played by Stellan Skarsgård or Al Pacino.) Forensic Pathologist Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) doesn't trust Halloran. Wants to keep an eye on him. Logan confesses this distrust to Forensic Pathologist Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson). But wait: What about Eleanor? She, turns out, knows every single thing there is to know about the Jigsaw Killer, superfan-like, to the extent that she has an entire art studio dedicated to immaculately recreating Jigsaw's various murder-traps and yes I am completely serious about this.
Meanwhile, Halloran doesn't trust Logan, either. Thinks there's something off about him. Wants him followed, even. He confesses this distrust to his partner, Keith Hunt (Clé Bennett). Keith Hunt assures him: "No way. Logan is a good man. I fought with him in the war and shit. But anyway, it does make perfect sense that our three key copycat suspects are also the three lead investigators of the case instead of literally anyone else in the world, so yeah, let's definitely keep our eyes on the forensics duo."
While boredom sets in over at the barn - I mean, after eight movies, how clever or "shocking" can any of these contraptions really be - the embarrassing procedural drama carries most of the narrative momentum. Which gives the film all the opportunity it needs to do the dumbest shit possible for a procedural drama to do. The guy in the coma somehow disappears without anyone - security, hospital staff, etc - noticing. Jigsaw's coffin is unearthed and Jigsaw's not in it. And all the clues are set up to implicate one of our heroes or another. This is a movie that spends 90 minutes chasing its own tail, and mostly for the purpose of camouflaging a left-field twist that isn't nearly worth the effort it took to get there, and which ultimately doesn't substantively alter anything.
At one point a pair of our barn-dwellers get locked in a silo being slowly filled with grain and very nearly get buried to death in there. I believe that makes Jigsaw, officially, part of the Witness Extended Cinematic Universe. The next installment will be a crisis of conscience for ol' Jigsaw when a young boy witnesses him modifying all the farm equipment into automated killing machines. The installment after that follows the same boy - now armless - becoming Jigsaw's newest murder apprentice. The installment after that introduces Jigsaw's never-before-seen clone army. The installment after that is set in outer space. Eventually the world ends.