We doubted that “Saw 3D,” the seventh and “final” chapter in the gruesome franchise, would be the last one (that it was the seventh we did not dispute), and our cynicism has paid off (again). Part eight, “Jigsaw” — now it’s named after the villain instead of his favorite weapon — isn’t what you’d call “necessary,” but it’s made with enthusiasm and ingenuity by twin directors Michael and Peter Spierig (“Predestination”), and it doesn’t reek of cash-grab sequel-itis. I suppose it helps that they waited seven years to make it.
We begin with hapless lowlife Edgar Munsen (Josiah Black) already having been forced to play one of Jigsaw’s fiendish “games,” the result of which is that Munsen is shot by police and five strangers wake up in a locked room, their own game evidently started by a remote control Munsen held. The five (soon four) have buckets over their heads and chains around their necks; the chains drag them toward buzzing circular saws embedded in the door; a voice that sounds very much like Jigsaw’s tells them he wants a “sacrifice of blood”; and so forth.
As usual, it doesn’t matter who these people are or what they’ve done to earn maybe-Jigsaw’s condemnation. Their characters are barely individualized beyond white guy (Paul Braunstein), black guy (Mandela Van Peebles), blonde (Brittany Allen), and redhead (Laura Vandervoort). The dialogue they speak (shout, mostly) certainly was not anyone’s top concern. Nonetheless, the personalized traps and games devised for them are clever enough to sustain the premise, and there’s something new at every turn as each small victory gets them out of one elaborate predicament and into the next. Writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger (“Piranha”) understand the simple formula that drives these films and make no effort to improve upon it.
“Saw” (2004) B+
“Saw II” (2005) C
“Saw III” (2006) B-
“Saw IV” (2007) C-
“Saw V” (2008) D
“Saw VI” (2009) C
“Saw 3D” (2010) C-
“Jigsaw” (2017) B-
Meanwhile, pervy cop Det. Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and normal cop Det. Hunt (Clé Bennett) are trying to figure out who put the now-comatose Munsen up to this, and what it means. When bodies start showing up bearing the marks of Jigsaw, aka John Kramer (Tobin Bell), the cops figure it must be a copycat. Jigsaw? Why, he’s been dead 10 years now. OR HAS HE?? Studly coroner Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and his assistant, Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson), who’s fascinated with Jigsaw, join the investigation, which leads to the cops and doctors all suspecting one another of hiding something. But they aren’t. OR ARE THEY??
The writers and directors keep things peppy with short scenes hopping between the action in the escape room, the cops, and the medical examiners, each thread having its own twists and surprises. (Significant chunks of the film are like an especially gory “C.S.I.” episode.) The constant motion prevents boredom from settling in while also discouraging the viewer from thinking too hard about the plot, which pulls some narrative tricks that will be familiar to fans of the series. The Spierigs and their crew also deliver graphic, impressively detailed carnage — a cross-section of someone’s skull, somebody’s acid-melted face, etc. — without overdoing the torture angle.
That’s always been the fine line for me with these movies. The traps and games are morbidly entertaining, but it’s a turnoff when the films dwell on the physical pain and suffering. That’s where, for me, it stops being fun. “Jigsaw” uses its blood and guts prudently and doesn’t attempt any social commentary. Honestly, it’s oddly comforting to see a story where victims are selected based on their actions, not slaughtered randomly by a maniac. The less our horror movies remind us of the real world right now, the better.
B- (1 hr., 31 min.; )