Jigsaw

By Wilkinson, Gavin | Irish Gothic Journal, Autumn 2018 | Go to article overview

Jigsaw


Wilkinson, Gavin, Irish Gothic Journal


Jigsaw, dir. Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig (Lionsgate, 2017)

Finality is a concept the implications of which the horror genre seems to have blissfully disavowed when developing sequels. Studios have learned to contend with the inescapable fact that, although everything ends, a franchise's lifespan can be prolonged by injecting a little creative adrenaline to revitalise even the most ailing brands. Narratively, it is possible to exhaust many conventional storytelling possibilities before a property changes form, such as when the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise (1984-2010) moved firmly into experimental meta-territory with Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) after Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991). The term 'final' can also signal the onset of a crossover phase where similar properties team up for a showdown, as in Lake Placid vs Anaconda (2015) following Lake Placid: The Final Chapter (2012). Others are satisfied to ignore continuity and proceed unabated; slasher legend Jason Voorhees, for example, has twice bid farewell to audiences in the same established canon with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) and Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993). Perhaps most amusingly guilty of having to navigate this challenge is the Final Destination franchise (2000-11). In a series built around the idea of finality, the conclusively titled The Final Destination screened in 2009, yet reneged on its promise, as Final Destination 5 (2011) arrived only two years later.

Thus, following Saw: The Final Chapter (2010), comes Jigsaw (2017), the eighth instalment in the long running torture-porn series (2004-17) now explicitly named after its titular villain. Jigsaw is the first entry to be directed by the Spierig brothers, whose filmography includes vampire escapade Daybreakers (2009) and the underrated time-travel mystery Predestination (2014). This latest addition to the Saw franchise is the first after a seven-year hiatus, largely due to the waning popularity of the sub-genre, in conjunction with the rise of the Paranormal Activity series (2009-15), which usurped its long-held throne at the Halloween box office. To mark the tenth anniversary of Saw (2004), the original was rereleased into cinemas in 2014, providing a barometer to gauge the appetite for the return of torture porn - it bombed spectacularly. Nonetheless, as it remains a familiar and lucrative multimedia artefact - even boasting its own rollercoaster ride in Thorpe Park in Surrey - it was inevitable that a new movie would eventually surface.

Jigsaw emerges during a renaissance for horror, exemplified by the overwhelmingly positive critical reception of Andy Muschietti's adaptation of Stephen King's It (2017) and Jordan Peele's subversive racial commentary, the Academy-Award winning Get Out (2017). Hence, Jigsaw is somewhat out of place, as torture porn came to prominence in a cultural climate dominated by heightened fears of terrorism post-9/11, and capitalises on the moral outrage cultivated by the Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib scandals. The Saw variety of excessive visual sadism now feels at odds with the ultra-low-budget but high-tension premises of recent hits like Don't Breathe (2016). Jigsaw circumvents any potential friction that may be caused in trying to reconcile these two extremes, by opting to uphold its identity, albeit with some slight amendments, rather than force an adherence to fashionable cinematic trends.

Picking up ten years after the death of John Kramer aka Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), the film sees Det. Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) trying to solve a wave of homicides that suggest that Kramer has risen from the grave and is playing games once more. Two forensic specialists - straight-edged army veteran Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore), and edgy Kramer enthusiast Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson) - assist in examining the increasing number of casualties, each raising suspicions that they may be involved in the murders. …

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