Jigsaw review – proof of the acting of Tobin Bell, and the power of the Saw franchise
The franchise is simple. Best ones are. Thirteen years ago two Aussie kids turned their student movie into the Saw franchise, now one of the biggest in cinema history. The set up of the original was simple enough, two men wake up in a nasty bathroom, one – Cary Elwes’ doctor – has his family held hostage while screenwriter Leigh Whannel played the photographer with info, a dead body between them, a serial killer on the loose and extended flashbacks that fill in the story.
With a killer twist, B-list actors – Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer, Shawnee Smith and Monica Potter – and an annoyingly catchy theme tune this was the movie of 2004. Six sequels on and the saga of John Kramer AKA Jigsaw was seemingly over, his complex heartbreaking past revealed over the sequels, the loose ends tied up, more twists and a pile of dead bodies waiting in their wake, it appeared the franchise was as dead as the main character.
Seven years on, a decade after Tobin Bell’s John Kramer died, there’s another film. This time a group of five people find themselves in another game, looking to solve the mystery before they end up dead as hell, all the while a reckless cop goes on the hunt for the killer. At this point in time it’s all very cliche. All the Saw movies are a cop thriller with gore traps, and as was always the case, cops, FBI agents, Internal Affairs… no one ends up looking too clever.
The central mystery – is John Kramer alive – is what drives the narrative. Seemingly the series ended with Dr Lawrence Gordon leaving Detective Hoffman in the bathroom, with no way to escape, as a punishment for killing Kramer’s beloved ex-wife Jill. This time around, Callum Keith Rennie is the rogue copper punching faces and not going by the book. Rennie is actually brilliant in his role; one part Billy Bob Thornton look-alike, two parts intriguing enigma, and even if his character is the most annoying of cop movie cliches he still manages to chew gum like the best of them and the obsession does make his character compelling.
Unfortunately for the film, none of the other characters are anywhere near as compelling. Matt Passmore is a bland central character as forensic pathologist Logan, who’s by-the-numbers back story means nothing to anyone, while his counterpart Hannah Emily Anderson is given only the thumbnails of a character. The intrigue of someone obsessed with Jigsaw is something that could really do with more fleshing out here.
The victims of the saw trap are all very boring too; Laura Vandevoort, a one time Supergirl, is relegated to the main heroine of the story but like so many in the franchise lacks any drive for us to want her to survive, and the others – Paul Braunstein, Mandela Van Peebles, Brittany Allen etc. are all boring, annoying and not worth the time to invest.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, the Saw series was always engaging, always filled with over the top twists, questionable acting and traps and any new movie lives or dies by those very things. The central mystery and question drives the film and helps to create an air of tension, That theme tune by Charlie Clouser and the musical score as a whole, is a thread that keeps the film on the right path even as it falters into the more mundane elements.
There aren’t many memorable traps in the film, as many seem to be pale imitations of the previous ones. The razor blade trap is a little bland, the whirly one seems to make no sense, the hanging one, the grain pit – they’re all very paint by numbers and even a laser pointer collar seems a little dull. The Spierig Brothers also have a style, it’s not as grunge inflected as the other films, there’s a lot more clean surfaces, actually working technology than the previous series entries, the fact that this is in a farm house and not an industrial warehouse means that there is less rusty sludge green.
Unlike the claustrophobia of James Wan’s original, the rapid editing and intriguing screen transitions of the three Darren Lynn Bousman films, or the whatever David Hackl and Kevin Greutert were doing, this is a smoother more graceful film, a more modern film.
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The film also has an ace in the hole, with Tobin Bell. The man knows the John Kramer role so well and has such a smooth way of delivering his monologues and speeches, that without him the film would be nothing. He is definitely the linchpin of the franchise, and when his voice comes on over the tannoy it’s hard not to want to cheer.
The film does pose more questions than it answers, and there’s no way it’ll be anyone’s favourite, but it’s proof of the acting of Tobin Bell, and the power of the Saw franchise. This is not the Saw’s version of New Nightmare that reinvents the series like Wes Craven did, but it opens the door to more installments, drives the need for more of these stories, and once again no matter how underwealming it is, gets us to play the game. Watch or don’t… make your choice.