Spierig brothers’ take on horror franchise cuts familiar terrain

Jigsaw film poster 2017.
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FILM JIGSAW ?????? (MA) General release (92 minutes)

Ah, memories. The first Saw film became a surprise hit in 2004, when torture was what we’ve since learned to call a trending topic – especially after scandals broke involving the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

Thirteen years and seven sequels on, it can’t be said the theme has lost its resonance. But this latest instalment in the 21st century’s most successful horror franchise adds little to what has come before.

Saw was originally cooked up by a couple of ns, director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell. But they’ve taken a back seat on the sequels, this time handing directing duties to another n duo, brothers Peter and Michael Spierig, who showed some flair for the outlandish in their 2014 science-fiction thriller Predestination.

As in every Saw film, we’re introduced to a group of semi-anonymous victims, to be guided through various sadistic “games” by the evil mastermind Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), who died several instalments ago but hasn’t let this slow him down.

Meanwhile, a team of detectives launch an investigation, pausing regularly to explain Jigsaw’s backstory for the benefit of newcomers. Typically for the series, this double plot is a kind of trap, but aficionados will be able to guess quickly how it functions – in essence if not in detail.

With dingy lighting, relatively few locations and no big names in the cast, Jigsaw,like its predecessors, is essentially a modern B-movie. This allows it a disreputable edge that nowadays is usually missing from mainstream horror; nobody is especially sympathetic, anyone could die at any moment and the moral lessons taught by the villain are transparent excuses for sadism.

As ever, the main attraction is the spectacle of Jigsaw’s victims caught in his gruesome homemade traps. There are whirring blades, syringes filled with acid, sharp objects that fall from above – and there’s the horror of being forced to choose between willed self-mutilation and something even worse.

Though the Spierigs don’t hold back when it comes to gore, they seem less than fully invested in the challenge of thinking up new, ingenious ways to hurt people. Still, the nasty set-pieces are visualised vividly enough to trigger the mixed reactions that have been the point of the series: fear and revulsion as we imagine ourselves trapped in this manner, followed by a flood of relief that it’s happening to someone else.

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