JIGSAW

Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Michael and Peter Spierig

Stars: Matt Passmore, Tobin Bell, Callum Keith Rennie, Hannah Emily Anderson, Cle Bennett, Laura Vandervoort, Mandela Van Peebles, Paul Braunstein, Brittany Allen, Josiah Black.

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This is the 8th film in the gory torture porn series created by Aussie filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell in 2003. The series has grossed over $870 million to date. And even though it has been seven years since the optimistically titled Saw: The Final Chapter, here we are again back in a world of gruesome deaths and fiendishly ingenious devices created by the Jigsaw Killer, aka John Kramer (played as usual by Tobin Bell).

Kramer, who died ten years ago, was a terminally ill cancer patient whose strong views on punishment and redemption led him to create his ingenious traps and cruel devices. Out of some warped sense of justice he would try to coerce confessions out of criminals who had largely gone unpunished.

Bell has converted an old barn into a torture palace and there are five hand-picked subjects about to be put to the test in a deadly game. Some of the intended victims imprisoned here include Anne (Laura Vandervoort), his former neighbour who killed her baby and framed her husband; Mitch (Mandela Van Peebles), who sold Bell’s cousin a faulty motorbike that eventually killed him; drug addict Carly (Brittany Allen), who mugged a woman and left her to die; and the thoroughly unpleasant Ryan (Paul Braunstein, from The Thing, etc), who as a youth caused the death of a car load of people. He blatantly ignores Jigsaw’s rules, putting others at risk. Things get off to a gory and sadistic start as these hapless victims are dragged towards a wall of circular saws.

When new bodies showing signs of Bell’s handiwork begin to turn up an investigation begins. Heading the investigation is corrupt cop Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie, from tv series The Man In The High Castle, etc) and his partner Keith Hunt (Cle Bennett, from Urban Legend, etc). Medical examiner and forensic pathologist Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore, from tv series The Glades, etc) is brought on board to probe the bodies for further clues. He has an army background, and is methodical in his pursuit of evidence. His assistant is Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson, from Shoot The Messenger, etc) who is obsessed with Bell’s devices, to the extent that she has even recreated some of them in her huge grungy studio.

This new instalment in the Saw franchise has been written by Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg (Sorority Row, etc) and it offers up more gruesome deaths as it attempts to reboot the iconic horror franchise and rewrite the history of the series. The pair attempt to tie up a lot of the loose ends of Kramer’s murderous legacy. It probably helps to have seen some of the other films in the series as Jigsaw is littered with meta references to characters and earlier events. The pair give the film the feel of a police procedural for much of the time. The narrative moves back and forth through two different time frames, which will temporarily disorient many. But the script also has lots of twists and attempts at misdirection.

Jigsaw is directed by Australian filmmaking twin siblings Michael and Peter Spierig (vampire thriller Daybreakers, the mind-bending time travel thriller Predestination, etc), who have a great understanding of the genre tropes. Their previous horror themed thrillers have been ambitious and made the best use of their limited budgets. They aim to revamp the formula here and put their own stamp on the familiar material. They handle the torture aspects with far more restraint than some previous directors, and give the film a nicely cinematic vision. There are some effectively gruesome special effects on display here, although the Spierigs save the best one for the end. Previous entries in the series have desensitised audiences to the gore and bloodletting. The film has been shot by cinematographer Ben Nott (Daybreakers, etc), who gives the material a sleek visual palette.

Performances are routine here with no real standouts, although the victims do seem suitably panicked. Rennie delivers a solid performance as a cliched character. There is a palpable tension between Passmore and Anderson. And franchise staple Bell, reprising his familiar role as the charismatic Kramer, is quite menacing and chilling.

But ultimately Jigsaw is an unnecessary and belated reboot of a grisly horror series that has outworn its welcome and it offers little that is new or inspiring.

★★★

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