Monday, 30 October 2017

Jigsaw Review

Another Saw film? Yep.

There’s no easy way to review a Saw film, because there are so many different ways to watch a Saw film. You could watch it in the critic-like impartial sense, as the moviegoer who has no loaded objective. Or you could watch it in the torture-porn fan sense, as the person looking for nothing more than creative dismemberment. Or there’s even the postmodern ironic sense, seeking entertainment from the thrill of shoddy filmmaking.

Oh dear...
But before we can delve deeper into the specifics of where Jigsaw triumphs and fails (hint: it mostly fails), it’s important to contextualise this review. This is the eighth film in a series whose main antagonist died in the third installment, and which has been playing the same temporal switchback techniques on its audience to explain itself ever since. It’s a series that has become infamous for featuring nigh-on identical stories each time it shows its face. And, most importantly, it’s a series that ended in 2010 with a film subtitled ‘The Final Chapter’. So, by bringing it back seven years later, you’d think the filmmakers had something new to add.

The first thing I’ll say is that you’d be wrong: this is vintage Saw through-on-through, all the way from the nostalgia-provoking references of the first installment to the hackneyed plot beats that have plagued the franchise since 2006. There’s a 50/50 story divide between six unfortunate souls trying to escape a murder maze designed by a sanctimonious creep, and a cheap-looking NCIS generic cop subplot about the feds trying to solve the crime. As per, there’s a lot of needless twisting in the third act (most of which is explained in a Chekov’s Gun style cheesy monologue), and because it’s been 7 years since the last one, there’s apparently cause for many shot-for-shot throwbacks to the 2004 original.

The second thing I’ll say is this: does it really matter? Well, I guess yes and no. Yes, in that it’s not Citizen Kane. Despite the promise of a more auteur-driven approach by the Spierig Brothers, this looks like stock ‘cheap Lionsgate movie’ footage through-and-through. The script is frequently, unintentionally funny (‘jig-fucking-saw’, a character sighs at one point); the acting is beyond terrible (apart from Tobin Bell, of course); and you know the main plot beats from the first 10 minutes. So I guess that means it’s a pretty shit movie.

But also no, all this doesn’t really matter. You weren’t expecting Citizen Kane, you were expecting someone to have their head sliced in half by a circular saw. Someone’s head is, indeed, sliced in half by a circular saw. Success. 

And, to be completely fair, those kind of kicks are present throughout Jigsaw. The attraction of a Saw film is, and always has been, watching assholes suffer convoluted demises from the safety of the theatre with a group of friends. Not out of some primal anger, or some sick sexual perversion (as the genre nickname might imply), but rather out of an amused intrigue of the distasteful. It’s almost as if the film is daring you to see it, what with the ’18’ certificate in bright red and in a gigantic font, screaming into your face that it’s going to shock and offend. And, to that end, Jigsaw is successful. There are no less than five or six grisly fates to be had here, some in pretty ingenious ways, and ones that reliably cause the audience to recoil, or shield their eyes, or laugh, or groan, or scream (or whatever). You can tell me that this has no value in a moral sense, but you can’t tell me that it’s not a whole load of trashy fun to have at Halloween. 

It helps that it's not actually 'offensive'. When all is said and done, it almost feels quaint to drag yourself to the cinema in 2017 to witness a group of fools being tortured to death. Jigsaw is far less affecting than something like Mother! or Brawl in Cell Block 99. It’s just a modern form of the Grand-Guignol - pulpy and gory, for sure, but removed of any hefty emotional context in a manner that leaves the audience unable to care about the characters – instead putting themselves in the traps, so to speak, and reacting accordingly. So to this end, it’s lovably shit. The hackneyed premise, shoddy script/acting, over the top deaths (especially the final one), and cheap footage make Jigsaw feel like a genuine 21st century exploitation movie. Combined with a ridiculous, convoluted, and almost ironic twist ending (where inconsistencies in production actually reveal themselves to be plot points), it promises sheer depravity that’ll shock the audience to its core, but instead provides an amusingly good time that, whilst forgettable, is worth admission price on a cold night.

As Jigsaw himself would say, ‘make your choice’. If you’re an average viewer looking for a good movie, then you’re not going to find it here: it’s a cheap-looking, mostly predictable, and somewhat cringe-inducing pile of trash after all. Sure, it’s never not entertaining, and the casual savagery is a franchise USP, but you could just shell out your cash on a better movie. If you’ve come to watch people be creatively dismembered, on the other hand, then you’ll probably fare a little better. Jigsaw may not boast anything unique, it may have been completely unnecessary, and it may preoccupy itself with nostalgia for a series that hadn’t reached a point where nostalgia was appropriate yet. But it’s a fun, nihilistic Grand-Guignol explosion of gore that provides popcorn-munching exploitation in a very adult way.
Jigsaw gets 2 stars!

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