There hasn’t been a Saw movie since Saw 3D, the seventh installment, released in 2010. Wanna feel old? Here’s what was going on in the world in 2010: Jersey Shore was enjoying its second season on MTV, the first iPad was released. Vuvuzelas. The Affordable Care Act was signed into law. We just wanted to GTL and make sure nobody could be turned down for preexisting conditions. Maybe we were going soft. Maybe Jigsaw was not the hero we needed anymore. Should we be worried that he’s back?
The Saw franchise is based on a social experiment/vigilante-justice premise seemingly concocted by and for people with a teenage boy’s grasp of morality and human nature. Over seven films, fans of the franchise have flocked to theaters every October to see a new batch of unwitting randos get chained up and run through the sadistic “games” of Jigsaw, the alter ego of John Kramer, a very unfortunate guy who’s survived just about every tragedy a teenage boy could come up with — cancer, dead baby, suicide, being poor — to become a notorious murderer. He has an angle, of course: targeting people who have disrespected the blessings of life, or something exceedingly stupid like that.
In the spirit of this fall’s Leatherface and Annabelle: Creation (spun off of Saw co-creator James Wan’s The Conjuring series), the new film Jigsaw attempts to spin an origin story to the original film, despite such an origin already existing. The timeline of the primary “games” we see in the film is not made clear til later on; meanwhile some copycat murders are showing up long after Kramer’s “death.” The more the film tries to explain the “psychology” behind its titular villain, the more I feel like Jigsaw is the reboot 2017 deserves, a movie about a guy with a lot of time on his hands who, as someone on Twitter explained to me, “seeks outsized justice on random strangers over stuff that isnt his business.” Kramer is an intensely moralistic man who has little imagination for anything but violence, a bogeyman too shortsighted and self-involved to inspire anything more than thudding depression. Watching Jigsaw go about his torture business is about as interesting as watching a child burn ants — a dumb and ugly waste of energy, resources and time.
Not to give too much away — because the violent set pieces are what people see these things for, not the Tao of Jigsaw — but the final image is one I won’t soon forget. A man’s head, having been sliced from the top like a pizza by a wagon-wheel of laser cutters, flops open like an enormous tropical flower, oozing pale pink and burgundy juices. For a moment, I was actually dazzled; human anatomy had been rendered plastic and alien in a way I truly had never expected to see in my lifetime. But that thrill only lasted for a second, replaced quickly by a dull sadness as the brains slid out onto the floor and the credits rolled. The last thing I need right now, as a filmgoer and as a citizen, is to be more alienated from other people’s bodies and brains.