Jigsaw (2017)
★ / ★★★★

Think about it: Those in charge of the “Saw” series had seven years to come up with great ideas to reimagine the franchise and yet what they delivered is yet another regurgitation of installments that came before. This is a spineless, tensionless, tired, soporific horror-thriller that should not have been resurrected in the first place. Viewers looking for the level of imagination that James Wan’s 2004 breakout hit offers are certain to be disappointed.

In the middle of this mindless, joyless picture, I wondered who it is for. Surely it is not for horror fans because there is nothing scary or curious about it. Never make the mistake of failing to discern between disgusting images for the sake of shock value and the uneasy, escalating feeling that a particular situation might go terribly awry at any moment. The former is the bread and butter of the so-called torture porn movies while the latter is one of the main ingredients of effective horror films. As an optimistic viewer, however, I waited patiently to be surprised in any way. I held on to the possibility that perhaps there is a neat little idea just brewing in the background.

Yet even the would-be twists prove to be most disappointing. Audiences with a discerning eye are likely to guess correctly regarding who is running the game and within what context. Scenes that contain information designed to mislead viewers might as well have thick, flashing, red subtitles that spell out “Red Herring” at the bottom of the screen. There is no subtlety or effort in the screenplay. Writers Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg fail to assume that their audience is intelligent enough to be able to read between the lines once in a while—a common thread among awful horror movies, often sequels that exist solely for cash grab.

The Jigsaw killer is a fascinating character because of his twisted version of morality. But the picture is not at all interested in exploring his psychology—strange because the title hints at the possibility of attempting to understand what makes the murderer tick. Dreaming of a better movie, I wondered what might happen if a director like David Fincher helmed a “Saw” picture. Certainly the film would be more dialogue-driven. Meanwhile, its tone would be thick with implications, insinuations, suspicions. There would be actual detective work and a sad yearning to understand the abnormal mind. This is the kind of fresh air the series needs desperately—but it may be one that fans of the series may not want or expect.

Scenes involving torment have gotten so cartoonish over the course of the “Saw” series that at this point topping the images that came before would be fruitless. There is not one impressive sequence that made me feel queasy or want to look away. Not even gorehounds will be impressed by its generic, pointless kills. In fact, at some point I wished for the characters to die sooner because it would mean a much-needed break from all the screaming and arguing. Not one of them is a character worth rooting for despite their criminal backgrounds.

Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, “Jigsaw” is a piece of the puzzle best left undiscovered from under the couch. Passionate filmmakers who genuinely wish to make a statement about their work go above and beyond what viewers expect from the story or genre. Here, one gets the feeling they are simply going through the motions, that they simply have a deadline to meet.

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