Jigsaw starts as a man runs from police to the roof of an abandoned warehouse where he finds a detonator marked by an X behind a beam. In the standoff that follows, he shouts that five people are going to die if Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie, “Fifty Shades Freed”) isn’t brought to the scene immediately. When Halloran shows up, however, the man admits that the game is just getting started and he must choose who dies — “them or me.” He pulls the trigger, is shot by the police, and a digital clock in a grey room begins counting down from 1:00.
At 0:00, a buzzer sounds and lights illuminate five people sitting on the floor. On each of their heads is a steel bucket with a window cut out for their eyes; around their necks are clamps and chains that disappear through holes in steel doors directly across from them; protruding from these doors are eleven circular saws. Four of the five people awaken and begin to panic when they can’t remove the buckets; the fifth lies inert on the floor. Within moments, a voice greets them and accuses them of “denying culpability for the circumstances” in which they’ve found themselves. He calmly notes, “Salvation can be yours if you cleanse yourselves of the habitual lies which have brought you here, lies that you have told yourselves, lies that have brutalized others.” As the dire nature of their situation sets in on them, the voice notes, “Any attempt to violate my rules will kill you.” Their task is set, Jigsaw’s request is made, and the saws begin to whir.
Later, in the coroner’s laboratory, Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore, “Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?”) and his assistant Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson, “Shoot the Messenger” TV series) examine the remains of a man who did not survive Jigsaw’s bucket trap. Halloran stands by as Nelson discovers a jigsaw cutout on the corpse’ neck and pulls from it a small flash drive. The drive is engraved with the words, “And then there were four,” and holds an audio recording of a voice that sounds an awful lot like John Kramer — aka Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, “Saw V”) — who has been dead for more than ten years. Despite their contentious working relationship, Nelson and Halloran embark on a race against time to stop a series of deaths that impossibly appear to be the work of the Jigsaw killer.
Seven years after the release of the misnamed “Saw 3D: The Final Chapter,” horror fans are gifted with Jigsaw, the eighth installment of a franchise that has veered far away from its origins. The original “Saw” and the first few of its sequels were written by Leigh Whannell and included clever twists and turns alongside some cringe-inducing traps endured by Jigsaw’s victims. As the sequels continued, however, the franchise devolved into a mess of horrific torture devices that no longer fit Jigsaw’s intentions. His devices provided the victims with a choice — and, ultimately, a way out. The “disciples” of his work after his death proved more masochistic in nature, rigging the games to ensure grisly deaths. The stories in these films were lackluster at best, all suspense was lost, and each film became an exercise in not blocking your eyes from the gore. In Jigsaw, writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger, new to the “Saw” family, bring chance back to the game and as player Anna (Laura Vandervoort, “This Means War”) keenly notices, “. . . games can be won.”
While the acting is nowhere near stellar and there are some plot holes to contend with, at least the suspense is restored in Jigsaw as the audience realizes that these people could survive if they just fessed up and paid attention. At the same time, Halloran and Nelson work with Eleanor and Det. Keith Hunt (Clé Bennett, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” TV series) to unravel the mystery of Jigsaw’s rise from the dead. For the most part, the audience can armchair quarterback the game — after all, we’re not under the same time constraints nor do we have chains clamped around our necks. Suspense has returned, the clues are set, and there are still thrills to be had in variations of Charlie Clouser’s “Don’t Forget the Rules” theme. While the movie can’t overshadow the one-two punch of the first two “Saw” films, Jigsaw brings back to life one of the most iconic villains in horror — and he has been sorely missed.