“Jigsaw” fails to live up to franchise standards

A version of this was previously published with District

It’s been seven years since the supposed death of the classic “Saw” franchise. But in typical Hollywood fashion, the series rose from the dead last week with the eighth installment, “Jigsaw.” The film, which is part of one of the highest-grossing horror film franchises of all time, fails to stay true to the original films, feeling like a desperate attempt to revive the iconic “torture-porn” series.

The franchise is notorious for it’s poorly lit settings and that strange green filter that adds to the overall gross-factor. But not “Jigsaw.” The film begins with an energetic police chase in broad daylight, exerting more energy and showing more bright lights than any of the other films combined. This is most likely due to the replacement of David A. Armstrong—the cinematographer of the series’ first six films—with Benn Nott. While Nott’s clean and crisp style can be appreciated, it pales in comparison to the depth of Armstrong’s, who used tantalizing and eerie color and filter choices as metaphors for the gore and bloodshed throughout the prior films. Without that creative representation, “Jigsaw” becomes just one more notch in the horror movie genre’s bedframe.

The characters in the film are no better. Most of them—Logan Nelson, the film’s protagonist, not included—are dull, thin, and are only made interesting by a handful of reveals. Take Anna—played by the convincing Laura Vandervoot—for example. When she awakens in one of Jigsaw’s traps, she is quick to prove her intelligence by being the first to discover the solution to the trap. But her intelligence isn’t enough to convince viewers that she should be cared about. As the movie continues, her storyline develops only enough to reveal that she was placed in Jigsaw’s trap because she killed her baby and blamed it on her husband. Shocking? Sure. Shocking enough for a “Saw” movie? Hardly. Anna’s character develops only slightly at the end when she shows some remorse for what she’s done, but then quickly reverts when she professes her innocence and accidentally kills herself. 

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© Lionsgate Films

Perhaps the film does have one redeeming quality, however. Through a bout of nostalgia, dedicated fans are given a taste of the original films, which keeps them from completely disregarding “Jigsaw.” When Eleanor, Nelson’s assistant, takes him to her workshop, she reveals to him that she is a dedicated Jigsaw fan and shows him a collection of original Jigsaw traps seen in the previous films. The directors leave the heavy lifting to the viewers though, having the camera pan slowly across each trap, leaving the viewers to remember the glory of each of the prior movies.

But when Nelson brutally murders Detective Halloran, “Jigsaw” is distanced from the series the most. John Kramer, the original Jigsaw, was always labeled as a killer, but he, in fact, never killed anyone. Rather, he gave all of his victims the option to live or die, a major theme throughout the series. Yet, Nelson, Kramer’s successor, gave Halloran no possible option to live. He killed him in cold blood. True, Kramer’s protégés have gone rogue before, but always on their own terms, never in the name of Jigsaw, which is exactly what Nelson did. 

Despite being slightly entertaining and crisp with nostalgia, “Jigsaw” fails to acknowledge the details that made previous “Saw” films so successful. It has minimal payoff and proves to be a film only for die-hard “Saw” fans.