Jigsaw (USA 2017)
Although I’m more of a Paranormal Activity kind of guy, there is something to be said of the Saw series and its latest entry, Jigsaw. The first film was something of a low-budget minimalist masterwork in graphic horror, and with every installment it’s gotten more and more complicated, convoluted and unlikely, not that the last descriptor matters so much. As I am required to say every time I write about the Saw franchise: In the first Saw film, when Cary Elwes realizes that the saw isn’t for the chains, the only comparable shock I’ve ever received in a horror film was when Shelly Duvall finally took a look at what Jack had been writing all that time in The Shining.
Yes, I’m comparing the original Saw film to The Shining, generally regarded as the most horrifying mainstream film ever produced.
John Kramer aka Jigsaw returns yet again, or so it at first appears. The series gives its fans no choice but to suspend disbelief - I don’t think I’ve watched one since the fourth, and after a seven-year absence Jigsaw makes 8. The point is Kramer has effectively been dead since, if memory serves, the third episode, yet his various disciples keep carrying out his plans - similar to the Red John phenomenon in the universe of The Mentalist, only Jigsaw is much more hands on.
The plot is typical Saw since the second one - a group of strangers wake up trapped in a series of Rube Goldberg killing machines, and they must make life and death, pain and torture decisions in a matter of seconds to stay alive. These tests serve as lessons and, if passed, a form of penance for people who don’t appreciate the lives they have and who have wronged others in their wanton selfishness. It’s quite clever, especially with the continued ingenuity of the Rube Goldberg traps the victims continuously find themselves in.
The films take place in their own universe - there’s no definite city I’m aware of, and Jigsaw is constantly facing off against a revolving coterie of police detectives, some more scrupulous than others.
Where Saw continues to work is the fact that each film is typically two or three different films with two or three different timelines - its ability to repeatedly hide this fact is part of what makes them so ingenious. Much like The Sixth Sense, the films - regardless of director - hide their secrets in plain sight, and I say that as a man who spoiled The Sixth Sense in the theater 10 minutes into it, my companion at the time being beyond-furious because she knew i was right, and had just ruined one of the most infamous and talked- endings in modern film.
I was discussing the Saw franchise with a couple friends yesterday and one of them pointed out that the case could be made that everything that happens regarding the people in the traps takes place over the span of a few days - each film, with the people attempting to escape, is almost in real time, and then the script adds for a second or even third layer of plot that distorts both the audience’s sense of time and its sense of what is contemporary versus what is historical within the universe - Jigsaw ranks at the top of the Saw franchise in how expertly this is done, and a chilling shot near the end of the film was relatively mind-blowing, if such a thing is possible.
These films aren’t for most people - the graphic nature of the traps and their consequences aren’t for run of the mill horror fans. Saw is very much in the genre of torture-porn, and genre I personally do not like but the films are done well enough that I can get past its various obsessions with saws, needles, broken glass and all the horrible things generally categorized by me as “nightmare fuel.”