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Courtesy of Lionsgate

October 29, 2017

After Seven Years, Does Jigsaw Pick Up the Halloween Tradition?

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“If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw.”

It’s been seven years since that tagline has been heard in cinemas. In 2004, Saw hit theaters and created a whole new subgenre of horror. It became an annual tradition. Every Halloween brought more death traps, more mystery and an ever growing web of mythos. For seven years, Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures harvested huge profits from these low-budget, box office hits. But when Saw VI hit theaters, it was the first movie in the series to earn less than $100 million. That made Saw 3D, the seventh movie, the last in the series. That’s changed this year with Jigsaw, directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, and written by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg. After a seven year hiatus, Jigsaw’s trailers boast “he [Jigsaw] returns to take back Halloween.”

Now, I have to make a confession: when I was in high school, I thought the Saw movies were the best series ever. They were some of my first R-rated movies, and I obsessed with decoding the often-sprawling storylines. Over time, I became a little more discerning and realized they had more than a few problems. Yet, they were still my introduction into horror and they remain a guilty pleasure of mine. So I was curious to see where Jigsaw fit into the series.

Jigsaw hits the ground running with a police chase, which ends in a suspect getting apprehended and shot. Before he’s shot though, the suspect screams out that it’s all a part of “the game” and that more are going to die. Afterwards, grisly bodies begin popping up around the city, reminiscent of the Jigsaw murders of the previous movies. A dwindling group of people find themselves struggling to survive twisted traps, desperate not to become the next victim, while also finding out the crimes that led to them being targeted by Jigsaw. The police have to determine if it’s a copycat, and if so who it is; or, as it begins to appear, the original Jigsaw Killer himself.

Now, as you’d expect from a Saw movie, there’s blood. A LOT of blood. It was a problem that began to affect the later movies in the series. While the original Saw was indeed brutal and gory, it was selective in how much blood showed up on screen. More was implied than shown. In a way it was a gift of a tiny movie budget; with less prosthetics and effects, cinematography had to do more. In Jigsaw, you have autopsies sitting in full view, often with horrific injuries. You have the nasty results of the traps. It shows up on screen for extended times, and it becomes less shocking and more disgusting. Much like some of the series’ later movies, Jigsaw leans too heavily on blood and gore as a crutch.

Now, how about the characters? Jigsaw throws an awful lot of people at us, and the storyline shies away from actually focusing on any one of them. We know that this police chief is corrupt, and that guy really loves his daughter, but these kinds of things aren’t established well. That being said, there are still some interesting characters. There’s an autopsy assistant who’s also a member of a dark web cult that honors the Jigsaw Killer’s work. Odd, but definitely not boring. There’s also this one guy in the “main trap” of the movie who has the best reactions to everything, and some good sarcasm. Tobin Bell also reprises his role as John Kramer, the original Jigsaw Killer, and it’s great. Bell’s sociopathic and detached mannerisms make his scenes some of the best in the whole film. Everyone else ranges from okay to bland.

Weak characters hamper any film. When the film is a whodunit mystery, though, that problem multiplies. It’s hard to lean towards any suspect in particular when hardly anyone stands out to us. So, while it’s somewhat interesting, we don’t get that invested in the mystery. I do have to give the movie credit though for at least building SOME mystery for us, something that got eschewed in the later series.

We need to be honest though, everything I’ve just described takes second-stage in almost any Saw movie. No, we go to a Saw movie to see bad people navigate deathtraps. So, how Saw is Jigsaw? Well, you have the characteristic plot twist. It’s a twist that leaves a lot of loose ends though, and afterwards I thought “Wait, but what about that one thing? Or that event there?” You have some good tension here and there, and the movie manages to set us on edge at several points. You have the traps, outlandish and deadly as ever. Some of them get overly complicated, which again is part of the goofy charm of Saw.

One trap really captured my imagination though. The original Jigsaw Killer locks two people in a room, addressing them and recanting their sins, telling them exactly why he chose them. Then he takes a single shotgun, places a single shell inside, and states “The rest is up to you.” No other instructions. Even the cinematography seemed to improve, showing a lot with haunting visuals. It’s the kind of mind game that made me love the original Saw, and my only complaint is that the scene didn’t get to linger as long as I would have liked. But in that one part, I felt like I was watching the original movie again. It was a stroke of inspiration that I loved.

Jigsaw doesn’t quite top the original Saw movie. There are so many people running around that it’s impossible to really develop anyone. Plus, the movie tends to lean on gore and shock value instead of actual mind games to create horror. That said, it’s also not the worst Saw movie. It’s a return to form for a series that went out on a whimper in 2010 with Saw 3D. If audiences are kind at the box office, I think Jigsaw might just win back Halloween.

David Gouldthorpe is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at djg284@cornell.edu.