Jigsaw Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
The police find themselves chasing the ghost of a man who has been dead for over a decade and become embroiled in a diabolical new game that’s only just begun. Has John Kramer, the infamous Jigsaw Killer, returned from the dead to commit a series of murders and remind the world to be grateful for the gift of life? Or is this a trap set by a different killer with designs of their own? (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)
We’ve all taken our turns slagging off on the Saw movies, but a recent rewatch of the series has led me to believe that it will age better than many of us thought it would. Like the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises of the ‘80s, Saw is definitely a gimmick-driven product of its era and will likely be judged on the merits of said era. As its youngest fan base grows older, its reputation will improve and hunger for further entries will likely increase, even if the films ended on a sour note (Kevin Greutert’s Saw VII [aka: Saw 3D and Saw: The Final Chapter, 2010]). In their effort to revitalize the series without either of the original film’s main architects (both director/co-writer James Wan and writer/actor Leigh Whannell have moved on to enormously successful supernatural horror franchises), the producers and Lionsgate have turned to Michael and Peter Spierig, the directors of horror and sci-fi indies Undead (2003), Daybreakers (2009), and Predestination (2014). The Spierigs have a spotty record, but their high-concept sensibilities and penchant for striking visuals boded well, implying that perhaps the eighth film in the franchise, Jigsaw (2017), could offer a unique perspective on the well-worn brand.
Well, it was a nice theory.
What made the Saw movies unique were their use of traps, the way in which they split the narrative between graphic horror and frantic police procedure, and their convoluted plot line, which insisted on retconning and rearrange the events of the first three movies in an effort to keep the main villain ‘alive.’ The formula has its charms, but the status quo really needed a good shake-up to justify anyone continuing the series. While the Spierigs have brought a slick new look to the previously gritty, grimy franchise, they’ve done very little to advance the storytelling or alter the common themes we’ve otherwise seen driven into the ground over the previous decade. This is not a reboot or even a Freddy vs. Jason-styled nostalgic celebration of the recipe and its most over-the-top moments. At best, Jigsaw is a middle of the road entry that could’ve been made eight years ago and premiered the year after Saw VII (with one or two changes, it could even take place before that film). It features a litany of new characters who are basically stand-ins for old characters with backstories/motivations that no one cares about, because we’re all waiting for the story to reveal its inevitable twist. Then, as the key players bumble their way towards the ‘shocking’ conclusion, it becomes more and more clear that even massive elements of the twist has been recycled from previous Saw movies.
Of course, the Spierigs didn’t write the film – they were hired to direct after Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg’s screenplay (or at least a version of it) was okayed by the producers. If we’re counting their contribution as a purely technical and visual one, they did a pretty good job. Jigsaw isn’t the best Saw movie, but it’s probably the best-looking one. The trap sequences are suspensefully built and utilize comparatively minimal gore to convey pain/brutality, which is a substantial upgrade over the gross, but boring unrated mayhem seen in Saw VII. The other major improvement over lesser entries (IV, V, and VII, in particular) and even one of the better ones (Greutert’s Saw VI) is the balance between the traps, the flashbacks, and the police procedural. As the series fell into tedium, it developed a huge problem in which the plot was shuffled into the procedural scenes, to the point that they felt like cut-scenes from a more entertaining, trap-based video game. Though the sequences that take place outside of the trap area can be quite monotonous (we won’t count the far-fetched nature of the story against the film, since these movies always operate on a pretty ridiculous storytelling level), everything ultimately connects into a cohesive 90 minutes. I suppose that’s a pretty low bar, but here we are, anyway.
Jigsaw was shot using Arri Alexa digital cameras and is presented on Blu-ray in 2.40:1, 1080p video. The digital source is plenty obvious in this crisp, smooth, and clean transfer. Details are consistently tight, despite the use of shallow focus and soft gradations, especially hard contrast edges and fine textures. The occasionally fuzzy moment can likely be attributed to the focal shifts, rather than the transfer’s shortcomings. Hotspots are minimized and I didn’t notice any problems with edge-enhancement or other over-sharpening effects. The more intense (sometimes grotesque) colors of the original series has been replaced with a relatively neutral and understated palette. Dark interiors are desaturated and blue, brighter interiors are warm, brownish-orange, and the few exterior shots have a natural, but consistently overcast look. There’s not much in the way of contrasting highlights (sometimes, blueish lighting infiltrates the warmer shots), but the subtle black qualities are impressive. The darkest sequences (which, not surprisingly, account for a lot of the film) exhibit deep, rich shadows that rarely absorb subtle hue variations or mangled detail.
Jigsaw is presented in Dolby Atmos sound, though this review will pertain to the core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track. Like the older films in the series, this one is aurally quite aggressive. The sickly sound effects of churning chains, grinding gears, spinning saws, tumbling grain, roaring motors, et cetera, are cranked to ear-splitting levels for maximum distress. These elements are spread widely throughout the channels and blended neatly with clean dialogue and a throbbing score. Former Nine Inch Nails keyboardist and original series composer Charlie Clouser returns for this soft reboot and adds a touch of a techno twist to his familiar metal-meets-symphonic themes. The music is an almost constant presence with significant stereo, surround, and LFE enhancements.
Commentary with producers Mark Burg, Oren Koules, and Peter Block – The producers, who have recorded tracks for every single movie in the series, return for a typically info-packed, fast-paced, yet sort of dry commentary.
I Speak for the Dead: The Legacy of Jigsaw 7-part documentary (1:21:56, HD):
A New Game – The filmmakers talk about the gap between Saw VII and Jigsaw, developing the new film, and emphasizing suspense over gore (strangely, the producers are under the impression that the first Saw “wasn’t meant to be a horror movie”). James Wan and Leigh Whannell are notably missing from this discussion.
You Know His Name – Actor Tobin Bell discusses playing and developing the title character throughout the series.
Survival of the Fittest – A look at the cast, the casting process, and the new characters.
Death by Design – Concerning the Spierig Brothers, their cinematographer Ben Nott, and what each has brought to the franchise, as well as the production/trap design.
Blood Sacrifice – More about the design and execution of the traps and practical effects.
The Source of Fear – Charlie Clouser talks about his musical score, scene by scene.
The Truth Will Set You Free – A general wrap-up.
The Choice is Yours: Exploring the Props (6:27, HD) – A quick look at prop construction.
Trailers for other Lionsgate releases
The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.