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Movie Review: ‘Jigsaw’ Not As Lazy As It Seems – Some Clever Plot Twists

By Bob Garver

I had never seen any of the “Saw” movies prior to “Jigsaw.” The first seven films all came out before I was doing this column regularly, and I had no desire to pump money into a franchise that promoted unapologetic gore. That isn’t to say I didn’t do my research in preparation for this film. I knew that the action would be based on elaborate traps devised by John “Jigsaw” Kramer (Tobin Bell). I knew that his motivation is to make people who have disregarded human life in the past find new respect for it… if they survive. I also knew that Jigsaw himself died in the third movie and his plots are usually carried out by some sort of disciple. Oh, and the puppets, I knew about the little red-eyed puppets that ride tricycles. I still don’t know why I’m supposed to be scared of them, maybe that’s explained in an earlier installment, but I knew about them.

The movie features five “players” trying to survive Jigsaw’s traps. Whoops, make that four. One poor chap gets pulled into a moving buzzsaw in the first minute. C’mon Jigsaw (or mastermind du jour), the guy was barely conscious, you can’t possibly think that’s fair. The remaining players are Anna (Laura Vandervoort), Ryan (Paul Braunstein), Mitch (Mandela Van Peebles), and Carly (Brittany Allen). Anna helps another player survive the buzzsaw, and Ryan shoves one down, so there are your hero and villain, respectively. They’ll probably be the last two left – Mitch and Carly, thanks for playing. And I’m not so sure about you, Anna. You were chosen as a player for a reason, chances are you’re the worst one of all.

Outside the “game,” four characters are trying to stop the killings: Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie), Detective Hunt (Clé Bennett), coroner Logan (Matt Passmore), and assistant coroner Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson). Officially, their job is made more complicated by the fact that Jigsaw has been dead for ten years. Unofficially, their job is made more complicated by the fact that one of them is probably the one behind the game. It’s either one of them, someone who has helped Jigsaw in the past, or Jigsaw himself, though that would mean that he’s both alive and doing all the heavy lifting for once.

The bad news is that there’s something wrong with just about every trap in this movie. The players aren’t given enough time to properly respond to the buzzsaw trap. A decision by the wrong player messes up a syringe trap. A trap inside a grain silo can be easily conquered (just climb on top of the grain) and involves random perils that betray Jigsaw’s supposed precision. I couldn’t even follow a trap that I think took place in a big blender. A shotgun trap is hopeless. A laser trap doesn’t even attack the right part of the body (at least at first). The point of these traps is that the players are supposed to be learning a lesson about doing the right thing morally, and that point is lost at almost every turn.

But there are two pieces of good news when it comes to “Jigsaw.” The first is that there’s a twist that helps the movie make a little bit more sense. What seem at first to be continuity errors actually have some clever explanations. There are still a lot of things that don’t make sense (like how Jigsaw knows about certain players’ guilt), but the script isn’t always as lazy as it seems. The second is that the film is opening the week after the horrid “Boo 2! A Madea Halloween,” which makes even this tackiness look better by comparison. I certainly wouldn’t recommend “Jigsaw” to anyone who would be put off by its violence, but if you’re looking for a scary movie this Halloween and you’ve already seen “It”… then I would recommend seeing “It” again. See this movie only if “It” is really off the table.

Grade: C-

“Jigsaw” is rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and for language. Its running time is 91 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.