Reboots are nothing new in Hollywood, but the speedy resets that some franchises attempt can leave fans feeling more exhausted than revitalized by the material. From 2004 - 2010, the Saw franchise was king of the Halloween movie season, and even though Jigsaw doesn't bring anything fresh to the franchise seven years later, it's still enough of a fun "torture porn" throwback to possibly reclaim the crown.
The story takes place 10 years after the end of the Jigsaw killings, where we witness two connected series of events taking place. The first is a classic Jigsaw test on some unsuspecting victims, who wake up to find themselves trapped in one of the killer's signature games. Meanwhile, homicide detectives Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Hunt (Clé Bennett) are made aware of the Jigsaw killings starting up again, when a body is literally dangled in front of them. Working with medical examiners Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson), the detectives try to unravel the mystery of where Jigsaw's new game is taking place, and who is running it, before all of the players suffer gruesome "game over" deaths.
German directors Michael and Peter Spierig are best known for their 2009 film Daybreakers, a fun B-movie action spin on vampire lore. In taking on Jigsaw, the directors manage to recreate the fun mayhem of the Saw franchise, but admittedly "borrow" more ideas than they actually bring to the table. Jigsaw plays like a greatest hits of recycled Saw moments and twists, making this a fun throwback standalone, but not quite the fresh start that was promised.
In terms of direction, the pair bring much better visual composition than we're used to seeing from the franchise, with some quality visual concepts, good staging and blocking, and some vividly gritty cinematography from their Daybreakers DP, Ben Nott. It's still B-movie material, but it definitely looks better than later installments of the series - and arguably better than the low-budget original.
The script by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg (Piranha 3D) is a much weaker aspect of the film. As stated, the story recycles several tricks that we've already seen in the franchise (won't spoil them here), while attempting to tack-on additional pieces of the Jigsaw/John Kramer backstory that seem hopelessly contrived and flimsy. The journey with this new set of characters isn't all that memorable or significant, but Jigsaw definitely positions the survivors for a much bigger role in the franchise's future.
In terms of the cast, it's a mixed bag. There are a few standouts, with Laura Vandervoort (Smallville), Clé Bennett (Heroes: Reborn), and Paul Braunstein (The Thing) all holding down their ends, while Hannah Emily Anderson (Shoot the Messenger) brings some needed charm, while chewing up the scenery. Matt Passmore and Mandela Van Peebles aren't nearly as exciting (as characters or performers); however, characters hardly ever matter in Saw films beyond the body count. The traps and Jigsaw "game" scenarios are the real stars of these films - but unfortunately, Jigsaw front-loads its best ideas, and after a strong beginning, things quickly taper off into derivative and boring mayhem and "lessons" that the franchise has thrown at us before.
In the end, Jigsaw is going to bring back the fun "event film" feel to horror fans aching for Halloween movie mayhem, but it's not a strong jumping-on point for newcomers, or a particularly interesting new chapter for longtime fans. As pure Halloween season spectacle, it's about as enticing and nourishing as a pile of Trick R' Treat candy.
Jigsaw is now in theaters. It is 1 hour and 31 minutes long, and is Rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and for language.