Wednesday, December 20, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Jigsaw

Jigsaw was written by Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger, and directed by The Spierig Brothers.

Stolberg and Goldfinger (I'm betting that's probably NOT his real name) are occasional writing partners, who collaborated on Sorority Row and Piranha 3D (which weren't bad, as horror movies go).

Stolberg previously wrote Good Luck Chuck. He wrote and directed Kids In America, Conception and Crawlspace.

Oddly enough the two have also worked on a number of kids' TV series (!), which of course makes them perfect choices to write a brutal entry in a torture porn franchise such as Saw. They worked together on Phantom Investigators and Avatar: The Last Airrbender. Stolberg also wrote solo on Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, Sabrina, The Animated Series and So Weird. Goldberg also wrote for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the new version).

The Spierig Brothers (Peter and Michael) are a team of writers, producers and directors. They previously wrote and directed The Big Picture, Undead, Daybreakers and Predestination.

This is the eighth film in the Saw franchise, and the first since 2010.


From practically the minute that Jigsaw was announced, Lionsgate Studios' Publicity Machine went into high gear, touting the film as a "reinvention" of the series, and a bold new direction in the franchise.

It is no such thing. It is exactly like the last five or six films in the series. Once again we're introduced to let another of John Kramer's proteges, who's committed to continuing his life's "work." And just like in the previous movies, we're presented with a ridiculously contorted timeline that's inserted just so Kramer can somehow appear. 

In fact, at times Jigsaw feels like it's made up entirely of clips of the previous movies! There's nothing new of note here, as by this point there's very little the series can do to shock and surprise us. I suppose that's bound to happen after seven movies.

If Lionsgate was smart, they'd have taken this opportunity to completely reboot the Saw franchise from scratch. Because if ever a series needed a good relaunching and housecleaning, it's this one! Since the very beginning, the Saw films have all had a huge problem— their main character.

See, way back in the very first movie it's revealed that John Kramer, aka the Jigsaw Killer, is dying of inoperable cancer! That was fine in 2004, as the filmmakers thought they were making a small, low budget one-off little horror film. Giving Kramer a death sentence wasn't a problem, as they never intended to produce a sequel.

But then the unexpected happened. Against all logic and reason, Saw grossed an amazing $103 MILLION against its tiny $1.2 million budget. The minute Lionsgate saw those numbers, they of course demanded a sequel. Naturally this posed a problem for the filmmakers, as they now had a dying main villain on their hands, and had to figure out a way to work around this major handicap.

Kramer actually died at the end of the Saw III, but the filmmakers have managed to overcome this limitation, going to great and convoluted lengths to make sure Kramer somehow appears in each film.

That's why it'd have been easier if they'd just rebooted the whole thing with this film.

I have kind of an odd relationship with the Saw franchise. I avoided the films when they first came out, as they just looked vile and unpleasant to me. Seeing people forced to dismember themselves to survive just ain't my idea of entertainment, so I avoided them all like the plague.

Then a few months ago they all popped up on Amazon Prime. For some reason this time I thought, "Eh, what the heck." They were "free" to watch on Prime, and I have to admit I was always mildly curious about them, so I watched Saw, the first film in the series. Surprisingly it wasn't anywhere near as bad as I expected. Maybe I've just become desensitized by other horror films, I dunno.

Anyways, I ended up watching all seven of the movies on Prime. I'm still not a huge fan of the series, but I don't hate them as much as I thought I would. How's that for a recommendation, Lionsgate? Feel free to use that pull quote on a poster!

The film began shooting in October 2016 under the working title of Saw: Legacy. This was later changed to Jigsaw for reasons.

One last thing: Jigsaw's rated R, for "Sequences of grisly, bloody violence and torture, and for language." I dunno why, but that makes me laugh. Kids shouldn't see it because it features characters being dismembered, but they're also banned because it contains a few naughty words. Sometimes I wonder about our society.

Derivative or not, Jigsaw's a box office hit, as it's wracked up an impressive $101 million against its $10 million budget. You know what that means! Look for Saw 9: I Fall To Pieces next Halloween!


The Plot:

We begin with criminal Edgar Munsen leading police on a chase. Munsen runs into a building and across several rooftops until he's finally cornered by the cops. He raises his hands, reveals he's holding a trigger device and says he'll only talk to Detective Halloran. 

Halloran tells him to drop the device, but Munsen claims he can't. He says he has to decide who dies, and if he doesn't he himself will be killed. Halloran warns the others to target the device only, and not to kill Munsen. Just then Munsen starts to activate the device and the cops open fire, blowing off his hand. Munsen's shot in the chest as well, against Halloran's orders. Halloran leans over Munsen, who tells him the "Game" has begun.

Cut to a remote barn, where we see five unconscious people— Anna, Ryan, Mitch, Carly and an unknown male. Each person has a chain around their neck and is wearing a bucket over their head. They begin to stir, which triggers a recording from John Kramer, the infamous Jigsaw Killer (played by Tobin Bell). His voice tells the victims that if they want to survive, they have to confess their sins and offer a sacrifice of blood. So, typical Jigsaw stuff then.

The chains then begin pulling the five toward the opposite wall, which is lined with spinning buzzsaws. They all struggle against the chains, except for the unconscious man who's dragged across the floor. Anna slices her arm on one of the saws, which somehow opens a door in front of her and frees her from her bucket. She tells the others to hurry and cut themselves too. They're all freed except for the unconscious man, who finally wakes up just in time to be seemingly sliced to pieces. 

Sometime later, a man with a bucket on his head is found hanging from a tree in a park. It's obviously the victim from the barn, but how and why he ended up hanging from a tree is a mystery. The body's brought to the morgue, where forensic pathologists Logan Nelson and Eleanor Bonneville examine it. Eleanor uses a futuristic looking laser scalpel to cut the bucket off the victim's head (Plot Point!). Just then Detective Halloran and his partner Keith Hunt arrive. Hunt tells Logan he's sorry to hear of the recent death of his wife (Another Plot Point!). 

Logan inspects the body, and finds the head has been cut in half, presumably by one of the buzzsaws in the barn. There's also a puzzle-shaped piece of skin missing from the corpse's neck, which of course is the trademark of the Jigsaw Killer. But... but how can that be? He's been dead for ten years! Just then Logan notices an object inside the corpse's neck, and pulls out a small audio tape. When they play it, Kramer's voice tells them there are only four left. Obviously we're meant to assume he's talking about the victims in the barn.

Back in the barn, the four remaining victims enter another room. The chains around their necks start pulling the victims along, as the Billy puppet wheels out on its tricycle and laughs. Mitch notices a tape player next to Billy and grabs it, which makes the chains stop. Mitch plays the tape, and Kramer's voice says that one of the four is a purse snatcher, and has been injected with a poison. He points out hree syringes in front of them and says one's filled with saline, one with the antidote and the third with hydrochloric acid. Their task is to figure out who's been injected and save them by injecting them with the right syringe.

As if all that wasn't enough, the chains begin lifting them all up off the floor, threatening to hang them. Carly admits she stole a woman's purse, which contained her inhaler. This caused the woman to die later. She notices one of the syringes has the number 3.53 written on it, which is how much money was in the woman's purse. 

Ryan grabs the three syringes before he's lifted out of reach, and tells Carly to pick one. She refuses, so he ends up jabbing all three of them into her neck. The chains instantly release them and all four fall to the floor. Unfortunately Carly begins melting, as the acid dissolves her from inside. 

Sometime later, Halloran discovers the body of a half-dissolved woman outside a building. Her body's missing another puzzle-shaped piece of skin.

Back in the barn, the remaining three victims confess their sins, hoping that'll free them. Ryan admits he cheated on both his wives. Mitch says he sold a motorcycle with faulty brakes to a young man, which later ended up killing him. Anna says she doesn't have any sins, which seems unlikely. The only thing she can think of is when her husband accidentally killed their newborn baby while rolling over on it in his sleep (?). 

The victims enter a new room, and once again there's another tape. Kramer's voice tells them there're two ways out— a hard one and an easy one. He warns them against taking the easy route though. Ryan ignores the warning and heads right for the easy way. Predictably his foot immediately crashes through a rotten floorboard, as a device winds razor wire around his leg and traps him.

Anna and Mitch take the other door, which leads into a grain silo. You guessed it— the silo immediately begins filling with grain, threatening to bury them. The tape explains that Ryan can free them by pulling a nearby lever. Anna and Mitch plead with Ryan to save them, and he hesitates forever before finally pulling the lever. This frees Anna and Mitch, but also tightens the wire around his leg and severs it. Ouch.

Meanwhile, Halloran says he believes the Jigsaw Killer is still alive and well. Hunt tells him that's impossible, but Eleanor says she's found traces of Kramer's blood on the new victims. Halloran orders Kramer's grave to be exhumed. When the police open the coffin, they find Munsen's body inside. That doesn't make the least bit of sense, but let's keep going or we'll be here all day.

Logan and Eleanor meet in a bar, and he tells her he doesn't trust Halloran. In fact he thinks Halloran may been the one who shot Munsen on the rooftop to shut him up for some reason. Eleanor invites Logan to her impossibly spacious warehouse apartment, where she reveals she's a Jigsaw groupie and is fascinated by his "work." She even collects and recreates his famous traps (Yikes!). She tells Logan to keep this between the two of them though, as she's afraid it could implicate her in the recent murders. Right on cue, Hunt bursts in and arrests the two of them for the murder of the recent Jigsaw victims. He radios Halloran and tells him he's bringing Logan and Eleanor to the station.

Logan then tries to convince Hunt that Halloran is actually the killer, even bringing up his past dealings with Munsen. Amazingly this makes sense to Hunt, and he lets them go (!). Eleanor then deduces where the Game is being held, and she and Logan race to the location. Meanwhile, Halloran somehow realizes what's happening with Logan and Eleanor and pursues them. 

Back in the barn, it's Mitch's turn to be tested. He's lifted up by his foot and slowly lowered into a contraption that looks much like a giant blender— complete with a spiral blade lining the inside. The whole thing's powered by a motorcycle— the same one with the faulty brakes that Mitch sold to an unwitting sap. A new tape states that the man who was killed by the bike was actually John Kramer's nephew. He says Mitch can survive the trap if he manages to reach the center and turn off the switch at the bottom of the funnel.

Anna manages to shut off the motorcycle, which stops the blades long enough for Mitch to reach down and push the button. Unfortunately the bike starts back up, the blades begin spinning again and Mitch is shredded to ribbons! A horrified Anna then flees through a door, where she's captured by a hooded figure in a pig mask, which is one of Kramer's traditional trappings.

Anna wakes up in a new room, chained to one wall, while Ryan, who's still alive, is chained to the other. The hooded figure removes its pig mask to reveal he's the late John Kramer! GASP! How is this possible, when he's been dead for ten years? As he cleans a shotgun, he calmly tells the two of them he knows all about their sins. 

Kramer says Ryan's drunken college antics caused his best friend to be killed in a car accident. Anna still maintains she's sinless, which again, seems highly unlikely. Kramer shuts her down by finally revealing Anna's sin. She couldn't stand her newborn baby's constant wailing, so she suffocated it in a fit of rage. Terrified by what would happen when the authorities found out, she placed its lifeless body in bed with her husband, to make him think he'd rolled over on it and killed it. He was then arrested, and later hung himself in jail. 

Kramer then places the shotgun and one shell on the table. He says their key to survival is in the middle of the room and promptly leaves. Anna immediately lunges across the room for the gun before Ryan can even move. She puts the shell in the gun, points it at Ryan and pulls the trigger. Unfortunately for her, Kramer somehow rigged it to fire backwards, and it blows her brains out the back of her head! Ryan looks down and sees the key was actually inside the now spent shell. It's bent beyond repair, and he realizes he's doomed to die in the room.

Logan and Eleanor arrive at the barn. Just as they're about to go in though, Halloran appears and attacks. Halloran knocks out Logan, but Eleanor manages to escape and enter the barn. Halloran chases her, but he's bonked on the head by an unknown assailant, and loses consciousness. 

Sometime later Logan and Halloran both wake up, fitted with collars ringed with deadly laser cutters, just like the one Eleanor used in the morgue. Predictably, a new tape from Kramer tells them they must confess their sins or die. Halloran pushes a button to force Logan to go first. 

Logan's laser collar fires up, and the beams slowly begin angling inside toward his head. He hurriedly admits that several years ago, he was a young doctor who wasn't paying attention and mislabeled John Kramer's x-rays. This caused Kramer's cancer to go undiagnosed until it was too late to cure. Unfortunately for him, the lasers don't stop and slice into his head. 

A relieved Halloran laughs, thinking he's won. Suddenly his collar powers up too. Horrified, Halloran hurriedly blurts out his confession, admitting that over the course of his career he let many hardened criminals and murderers go free, in exchange for bribes. The lasers on his collar stop moving, but don't shut off.

Amazingly, Logan then gets up and takes off his collar! He reveals that the lasers on his collar were harmless, and he faked his death to get Halloran to confess his sins, which he just recorded. He then pulls a sheet off a table, revealing the decomposed bodies of Anna and Ryan. Yep, that's right! Every scene of the barn victims in this film actually happened ten years ago, back when John Kramer was alive and well! 

Logan then starts monologing, revealing he was the fifth, unconscious person in the Buckethead Trap. For some reason, Kramer had a last minute fit of mercy and realized Logan made a simple mistake, and didn't actually commit a sin. He saved Logan from the trap at the last second, then took him in as yet ANOTHER of his many, many proteges. 

Logan says he's now carrying on the late John Kramer's work. He says the two bodies that we thought were Carly and Mitch were actually criminals that Halloran let go. In fact, Halloran freed Munsen, who went on to kill Logan's wife (told you that was a Plot Point!). Halloran asks about Eleanor, and Logan says he let her go to establish an alibi— the police will find her apartment full of traps and assume she's the new Jigsaw!

And with that, Logan reactivates the lasers, which close in around Halloran's head, slicing it up like a Ronco Veg-A-Matic. As he shuts the door, Logan says, "I speak for the dead."


• As of this film, John Kramer has had 4, count 'em FOUR proteges: Amanda Young, Detective Mark Hoffman, Dr. Lawrence Gordon and now Dr. Logan Nelson. 

And once again, the series gets retconned to include the new guy, as this film tries to convince us he was working behind the scenes with Kramer all along, even though we've never seen him before. Just like all his other proteges! 

I get it— the filmmakers have to keep pumping out these movies somehow, despite the fact that their main villain died five films ago. Having proteges to carry on his work is a pretty clever workaround. But four of 'em? I'll bet after a while Kramer's secret workshop must have been awfully crowded with all these disciples constantly bumping into one another!

• John Kramer's philosophy was always iffy from the start, and seems to have mutated quite a bit over time. 

When we first meet him in Saw, he's an engineer who's told he only has a few months to live. Because he has so little time left, he's resentful of people around him who he believes are wasting and squandering their lives. So far, so good. I can understand that. 

But then in order to teach others to appreciate their time on Earth, he abducts select people and places them in elaborate death traps. According to Kramer's philosophy, If they manage to survive then they'll appreciate every precious day allotted to them from that point on. If they end up dying, then they didn't deserve to live in the first place.

That... that doesn't make any sense. He's trying to teach people to appreciate their lives by killing them? No matter how hard I squint, I can't quite get myself to see how that makes any sense. I guess maybe it's not supposed to— after all, he's a crazed serial killer, right?

Now here in the eighth movie, Kramer's philosophy seems to have changed. He's now targeting people who committed grievous sins and got away with it, putting them in seemingly inescapable death traps to punish them.

That philosophy makes much more sense from a serial killer standpoint.

Oddly enough, according to this film Kramer's new "Fitting Punishment" philosophy actually takes place before his "Teach 'Em A Lesson" one. Whoops! So I guess he goes from "Punish" to "Teach" and then eventually back to "Punish" again. Pick one and stick with it already, wouldja?

• As always, the most amazing part of these films is just how Kramer (or one of his many disciples) manages to rig all these elaborate traps and populate them with victims by himself without ever getting caught by the police.

Just look at all everything Kramer had to do in this film. He had to locate an abandoned barn and buy it, presumably under an assumed name. He then had to cart a bunch of equipment to the barn, build all the many traps inside it and rig them to work automatically as the victims stumbled into them.

He then had to target five people and abduct them from their homes, secretly transport them all to the barn and chain 'em up. Whew! That seems like a lot of work just to punish five people!

Even more impressive, Kramer somehow instinctively knows which of his victims would survive the various traps. For example, he left a tape specifically addressed to Mitch in a room with a trap made just for him. But what if Mitch had been killed in the Buckethead Trap? Or what if he'd been the one who didn't follow the rules and stepped in the leg trap? Wouldn't that have thrown off the whole Game?

• The whole Saw mythology feels kind of fuzzy and ill-conceived to me, like it was pieced together by a committee. You've got a serial killer nicknamed Jigsaw, who abducts people and places them in death traps, sometimes to teach, sometimes to punish. OK, I can work with that.

For some reason, Kramer or one of his many, many disciples then dresses up in a bewigged pig-head mask to abduct someone. Whyyyyyy, exactly? Most of the time the victims are knocked out before they even get a good look at their assailant. So who's the pig mask for then?

And then once the victims wake up in a trap, they're confronted by Billy the puppet, who wheels out on a tricycle and explains the rules of the "Game" in Kramer's voice.

I can kind of understand this, as Billy serves as Kramer's avatar and hiding his real identity (even though everyone already knows it). But then sometimes Kramer foregoes using Billy altogether and just leaves a tape player hanging from the ceiling to explain the rules.

Like I said, it's as if a committee came up with all these ideas and the screenwriter had to cram 'em all in.

• In the initial "Buckethead" trap, four of the five victims wake up from their drug-induced stupor at the exact same time. That's a pretty good trick, considering anesthesia effects people differently depending on their weight and metabolism.

• Where do Jigsaw's proteges keep getting these old school tape recorders that haven't been sold for decades? If the police want to catch the killer, they should probably try monitoring eBay and look for someone bidding on an inordinate number of obsolete handheld tape players.

• Early in the film, Eleanor examines one of Jigsaw's victims in the morgue. She uses a small, handheld laser cutter to remove the bucket from the corpse's head.

In fact her handheld laser is identical to the ones in the collar trap that's used on Logan and Halloran at the end of the movie. 

So are all coroners armed with super powerful laser cutters these days? I'm guessing not. Does this movie take place in the near future?

• Play the Jigsaw Drinking Game! Every time there's an overhead drone shot of downtown Toronto, er, I mean, whatever American city this film takes place in, take a shot! I guarantee you'll be dead of alcohol poisoning before the movie's over.

• Carly's sin involved her inadvertently killing a woman by stealing her purse, which contained her desperately-needed medication. The purse also contained a grand total of $3.53 in cash. Kramer somehow knows that amount, and writes it on the antidote that'll save Carly's life.

OK, I could maybe see the info about the woman dying without her medicine making it into the papers, where Kramer could see it. Maybe. Or I suppose it might have made it into an autopsy report that Kramer could have seen. But how the holy hell would he know the exact amount of cash that was in the woman's purse, in order to build an entire trap around it? Carly stole the money out of the victim's purse long before it was found by the authorities! There's no possible way Kramer could have known how much cash the purse contained.

• In a similar vein, I don't see how Kramer could possibly know Anna's secret sin. She was a horrible mother who killed her newborn baby because it wouldn't stop crying. Then to cover up her crime, she placed the baby's body in bed with her husband, knowing he'd roll over on it and think he smothered it. She then called the police and framed him for the baby's death.

I don't see any way Kramer could know any of that unless he just happened to be peeking in Anna's bedroom window while she did it.

• By the way, Anna's husband was so distraught over allegedly killing his own child that he went nuts and hanged himself in jail.

But... wouldn't he know that he didn't lie down in bed next to a baby when he took a nap? Did he really think his baby somehow got out of its crib, crawled into his room and hoisted itself into bed next to him? Why didn't he tell the police that his wife obviously had something to do with the incident?

• At one point we're told Logan served in Iraq, where he was captured by the Taliban and brutally tortured. Later we see him with his shirt off, and his back is crisscrossed with scars, implying he was lashed repeatedly with a whip.

Apparently that was all a lie, as he actually got the scars from the buzzsaws in the Buckethead Trap. The chain pulled him up against the wall full of blades, which cut into the skin of his back. Kramer then took pity on him and shut off the blades before they killed him and sewed up his wounds. 

There's just one problem here. The blades in the wall were all perfectly horizontal. Yet somehow the scars on Logan's back are at all different angles! Whoops!

• When Halloran says he thinks John Kramer's back, everyone tells him that's impossible, since he's been dead for ten years. Eleanor says not so fast there, as she's found traces of Kramer's blood on the recent victims.

So... do coroners regularly keep viable samples of serial killer blood lying around for decades?

• In order to prove whether or not Jigsaw's back, Halloran orders Kramer's grave to be exhumed. When the coffin's opened, we see Munsen's body inside. You know, Munsen, the informant who was killed a day or two ago in the movie's timeline.

Obviously Logan killed Munsen and placed his body in Kramer's coffin to send a message to Halloran, knowing he'd dig it up.

How could Logan exhume a casket, place a new body in it and rebury it without leaving a trace? Shouldn't there be obvious signs that the grave had been recently disturbed?

By the way, Logan obviously removed Kramer's body from his casket and substituted it with Munsen's. So where's Kramer's corpse now?

• When Eleanor takes Logan to her apartment, we see she's a John Kramer groupie who collects Jigsaw memorabilia. Sharped eyed viewers will notice many of the traps from the previous seven films in her apartment, including "The Angel," "The Box" and "The Reverse Bear Trap."

This is actually a nice bit of worldbuilding on the movie's part. In the real world people actually pay top dollar for the clown paintings of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, so I could easily see them collecting Jigsaw's traps.

• The big twist in this film is that all the scenes of the "Game" actually happened at least ten years ago, and possibly longer. Maybe even before the original Saw. There are several clues that point this out, if you know where to look.

First of all, the Billy puppet seen here has glowing red eyes. His eyes were always painted on in the previous seven films, indicating this one's likely a prototype.

Secondly, none of these victims ever acknowledge Jigsaw or the fact that they're in one of his traps. In every film from Saw II on, victims are all familiar with Jigsaw and recognize his handiwork.

Lastly, when Anna and Ryan meet John Kramer, neither seems to know who he is, nor do they mention he's supposedly been dead for ten years.

Jigsaw could have started a bold new direction for the franchise, but instead it's a tired retread that feels cobbled together from the trailers of the previous films. It's also filled with baffling plot holes, coincidence and convenience. The plot is virtually incomprehensible, as the filmmakers are forced to resort to increasingly convoluted methods to include the late John Kramer in the grisly proceedings. A film for completists only. I give it a generous C.

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