Remember the first time John Kramer (Tobin Bell) uttered those menacing words “I want to play a game”? It was ten years ago before he succumbed to brain cancer in Saw IV. Not that death stopped him, mind you, he merely continued to torment from beyond the grave and now, yes, you’ve guessed it he’s back for yet another film outing.
Jigsaw wastes no time throwing us right into the action of a high speed car chase and lots of heavy breathing as cops pursue on foot, The Game has already started unbeknownst to Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and his partner Detective Keith Hunt (Clé Bennett). Following the discovery of a decapitated corpse hanging from a foot bridge, and after the autopsy provides a USB drive, and a DNA link to the long-dead Jigsaw Killer, Halloran and Hunt join forces with the ME, Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore, think Aussie Thomas Jane) and his assistant Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson). All are determined to get to the bottom of the case before more bodies pile up.
Meanwhile, five - who quickly become four - unsuspecting (although, as time will tell, not wholly innocent) strangers: Anna (Laura Vandervoort), Mitch (Mandela Van Peebles), Ryan (Paul Braunstein) and Carly (Brittany Allan) come-to in a room, each attached, by heavy chains around their necks, to the wall in front of them. A voice declares that “the truth will set [them] free”, mentions the denial of culpability...blood sacrifice... well, most will get the gist by now. However, this time, this lot actually listen to instruction and agree to work together in order to survive and come out of the game relatively unscathed.
Taking the reigns of the eight instalment are the Spierig Brothers. The German-born Australian identical twins, Michael and Peter, are no strangers to darker sci-fi/horror genre pieces at their filmography can attest: 2009’s Daybreakers, Predestination (2014) and, currently still in cinemas, the Jason Clarke and Helen Mirren-starrer Winchester. They certainly make Jigsaw (or Saw VIII if you will) their own which is no easy feat given the notoriety of the already established series.
Bringing their regular DoP Ben Nott along for the ride makes a huge difference to the visual look of the film; scenes are brighter with some scenes even taking place outside. The narrative is simplified, more logical and feels more like a police procedural thriller, there’s far less gore and "torture porn" than one has come to expect from these films and it’s all the better for it - that said the film does provide some excellent prosthetics and Special FX. It’s stylishly done, largely unpredictable and definitely plays more with the idea of sin and confession than previous films with Kramer painted as a God - to listen to producers in some of the extras, Tobin Bell is one - he has been resurrected more times than Lazarus and here to cleanse the soul.
Any fan of these films need not worry, while there are refreshing flourishes, this has more common with the very first (and vastly superior) chapter and while it does manage to stand alone in its own right, make no mistake, it's a Saw movie. Jigsaw would make the ideal end to a storyline - John’s epitaph - which some may argue ran out of steam long ago. However, with the general populace continually screwing each other, maybe humanity needs Kramer (and his dulcet tones) to be our cinematic moral compass and continue to deliver penitence for a few more years to come...
Audio commentary provided by producers Mark Burg, Oren Koules and Peter Block.
I Speak for the Dead: The Legacy of Jigsaw (approx. 81 mins) - This extensive documentary is broken into chapters: A New Game (10 mins) - Producers discuss the rebooting and reinvention of a tired franchise. You Know His Name (8 mins) - Tobin Bell on his character, his working relationship with Lionsgate, and how he has been afforded the task of creating the man with the oddly soothing voice. Survival of the Fittest (15 mins) - Filmmakers, producers, cast and crew members join forces to describe the film's concepts and how they came to be involved - all were not given the film’s ending so not to ruin the survival surprise and the majority given screen time, interestingly, have not seen the franchise in its entirety. Death By Design (12 mins) - Small featurette dedicated to the lighting and design of the film. This and the next two chapters are well worth the time watching. Blood Sacrifice (13 mins) - Features the practical effects and details the art direction featuring the only women to be interviewed from the crew (aside from the two female actresses) are the Department Head of Make-up and a prosthetic make-up artist. The Source of Fear (17 mins) - The longest segment is dedicated to composer Charlie Clouser. Largely filmed in his studio, he breaks down his involvement with the franchise (having been involved from the very first film). He discusses the editing process and gives examples of musical cues - a highlight of the documentary. To close, The Truth Will Set You Free (7 mins) - Cast and crew members talk of their experience on the film and the fun they had onset. The Usual Suspects is name-checked again as inspiration (the film is nothing like The Usual Suspects).
There is an option to play all, however, I’d advise not watching it in one sitting (or not directly after the main feature) as it feels relentless and becomes rather tedious, especially given the amount of producers interviewed, and at length - they all seem to be in costume too. Rather telling is Leigh Whannell’s absence despite the fact that he has been served as an executive producer since Saw II, he perhaps might have injected a little more entertainment into the extras.
Lionsgate UK presents Jigsaw on DVD Blu-ray, 4K, Steelbook and Boxset on 26th February,