The Redemption of 'Jigsaw' & What's next for 'Saw'?
If it's Halloween...it must be SAW
Except it's not anymore. Gone are the years where Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures would proudly announce they've found a way to squeeze Tobin Bell's John Kramer into another Saw film in time for the spooky season. The box-office shrivelled up and the audience migrated over to those new and shiny-lookin' Paranormal Activity movies. Now we don't even HAVE an annual big-screen horror franchise anymore! What's up with that? The closest thing we really have is The Purge, and that's not a good thing.
Major spoilers for 'Jigsaw', minor spoilers for other Saw films
When 'Jigsaw' was announced for release in 2017 after a seven-year wait following the supposed Final
Chapter (never trust those words in horror), I must admit I was cautiously optimistic. Not only were the Spierig Brothers directing, but after a wait this long it surely meant the screenwriters had found a way to tell the story in a new and interesting way?
Well...short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but. Jigsaw slots in rather neatly alongside the rest of the sequels as yet another convoluted cop procedural with a gory side-story. After a long period of quiet, crooked Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and his team start to discover a bunch of murders that fit Jigsaw's famed modus operandi. The only problem is...that's impossible, because all those associated with the kills have been dead for years, including Jigsaw himself John Kramer. It's up to Detective Halloran and pathologists Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson) to find out who's acting out their Jigsaw families before a concurrently-playing new set of victims meet their fates in another test of games.
Jigsaw never quite manages to justify its existence for me, and I think a large part of that has to do with its similarities to Saw V (which I'm not a fan of). By having the 'new victims' take part in one long round of traps, it makes the audience spend a longer period of time with them. The only problem is, the characters themselves are shallow and as moronic as those that tend to feature within the opening trap segments. Logan Nelson and Eleanor Bonneville suffer the same fates, and for the majority of the runtime it's only Rennie's sleazy but scenery-chomping Detective Halloran that injects some much-needed life into the film.
Then there comes the expected final twist which, again, borrows heavily from previous entries in the franchise. Having the concurrent traps take place a decade earlier at the start of Kramer's ruling is a nice way to justify the blandness of its traps and setting, but it simply adds yet another component to Jigsaw's legacy by making Logan Nelson a pivotal part in the makings of the traps - especially when he's the least-memorable piece about the entire film. The only real solace of this is getting to see Tobin Bell grace the screen again, this time with an awesome goatee.
I know it sounds like this is just an excuse to hate on Jigsaw but I don't hate the film at all. I've seen it multiple times since its release and have shown it to others too (results vary, of course). My biggest problem with the eighth film is that it could have been so much more...
The promotional material played up an aspect of the narrative that's barely mentioned within Jigsaw. Above is one of five posters detailing various members of the public at the pig-masked assistants of Kramer alongside the tagline 'He is Everyone' (GREAT tagline). The idea behind these (and I assumed the film) were that in the years since Jigsaw's murders, a cult-like following of everyday people had decided to continue on his work after seeing the humanitarian side of Kramer. Even the website 'Jigsawsaves.com' offered visitors the chance to condone for their cruelty and confess how glad they were to be alive.
Not only was this potential plot interesting, but it was super timely. With various elections/referendum results leaving members of the public bemused and hollow, the chance to punish those who commit inhumane acts could have been easily implanted into the minds of millions. A cult of Jigsaw was inevitable. But sadly, Jigsaw chose not to focus or develop any of these ideas. Maybe it's because it would have robbed the film of the standard surprise reveal at the end? Who knows? But there is one scene in the film which shows potential at what the franchise's future could have been...
When trying to prove their innocence, Eleanor takes Logan to a workshop/museum she curates - one dedicated to John Kramer's work. She's detailed as having an obsession with the man's work; she's a part of the cult of Jigsaw, a group of people aligned with his world-view and fighting to keep his work pristine. Eleanor's even rebuilt various traps throughout the series for this mini-museum. Imagine if somewhere online, the cult of Jigsaw had managed to make the building instructions for the reverse bear-trap public, prompting various cult members across the world to employ their own version of Kramer justice. It's verging on The Purge levels of silliness I know, but the online cult idea at least would stand out as something different for the franchise.
It reminds me a little of the horror genre fascination with the (then) new and exciting world of the internet throughout the late 90s and early noughties. Films like FearDotCom and even Hellraiser: Hellworld (complete with tagline 'Evil Goes Online') proved there was schlocky but, admittedly fun, scares to be had with the inherent silliness of sending terror to the interweb.
Jigsaw wouldn't have even had to get rid of Logan's character. In the same way as Mark Hoffman (ew) was punished for exploiting John's intentions, Jigsaw could have perhaps bypassed the whole police-procedural element and focused on some cult members destined to seek out those which are using their prophets' name in vain. It would have continued the series' traditional manhunt element, whilst offering up a fresh perspective. If the audience was on the side of a group aligned with Jigsaw, it would have made the film feel miles apart from previous instalments (beside maybe Amanda's narratives within Saw III).
Jigsaw feels tricky because it was an opportunity for the franchise to carve itself a new hole in the zeitgeist and instead decided to play to the series' previous strengths. But of course, there is potential on the horizon...
Earlier this year it was announced that Chris Rock (yes) confessed his passion for franchise, and that he had actually written a story treatment for a future Saw film. In a world of traps and washed-out lighting, a kick up the ass with memorable actors would truly benefit the franchise, and of course the producers agreed. Not only has Rock written the story for the ninth film in the Saw franchise (tentatively titled The Organ Donor), but Samuel L. Jackson and Max Minghella are joining him in it, with returning Director from Saws II-IV Darren Lynn Bousman. It's an exciting development too, as it's been announced the film won't follow on directly from Jigsaw but will instead be the next installment in the world of John Kramer. In even more of a shake up, the series' traditional Halloween release date has been shunted to May, giving the film some stiff summer blockbuster competition at the box office. The idea being that the extra star power would give the film a boost profit-wise is most likely the reason, but there's that glimmer of hope that it's because they know that they've stumbled onto an idea which could really bring the franchise back into the limelight.
In a world where the horror heavy hitters like Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger are kept at bay with frustrating and complicated legal battles (and Michael Myers tentatively has only another two installments in him), the Saw franchise often felt like a continuation of the same ethos. Sure it's gross, but it was dependable. The notion of a new film that can recapture the excitement the series had at first seems possible, and when its inevitable sequels are announced let's hope the writers cast their minds wider than they have before. After all, how can Jigsaw really be gone if he is everyone?
For anyone interested my ranking of the Saw films from best to worst probably goes:
Saw: The Final Chapter
I like doing these explorations/analyses of films/television shows. If you have a certain show or film or text you'd be interested in hearing my thoughts on, or if you'd be interested in contacting me about potential writing work then give me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear what you think.
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