The first “Saw” movie had a minimalist sophistication — strangers, waking up together, presented with life-or-death choices as an unseen tormentor sat in judgement of whether they were fit to live.
Everything that followed, sequels and the whole “torture porn” genre they inspired, diluted that, lost much of what passes for philosophical in the themes and settled into “What creative ways can we come up with to torture/kill people THIS time?”
And maybe it was just me, but the movies also seemed to get caught up in “solving the mystery” of who Jigsaw — the generally disembodied voice offering up his captives their grisly choices; lose a limb, save your life, get HIM killed, save your life — might be.
Movies that generally split between the ticking clock of death for the victims and the hapless cops who can never seem to get there before Jigsaw has exercised his Darwinian revenge became procedurals — detective stories, with a lot of hacked up people in the end.
Then they killed off Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and ran out of ways to revive him/pass on his legacy, etc. Until now.
“Jigsaw,” the eighth “Saw” film hurls five new hapless wrongdoers — whose sins we don’t know (at first) — into a room, chains around their necks, code-locked death-helmets on their heads.
At the end of the chains — a wall of soon-to-be-whirring circular saws. Funny, “Jigsaw” never uses a jigsaw. Screenwriters almost never take shop class.
One by one, our victims (another generation of the Van Peebles acting clan among them) “confess” their crimes — a mugging accident here, a “sold bad mortgages, stole good coke” there. There are increasingly baroque killing contraptions, the occasional “blood sacrifice” and a lot of “The truth shall set you free,” the great empty promise of all these pictures.
Meanwhile, the cops (Callum Keith Rennie, Cle Bennett) are puzzled about the dead guy who still can manage to set up these elaborate, expensive and murderous kidnappings/punishments, and having a hard time pretending they care. Their glib complacency is…disappointing.
Even the absurdly callous and well-equipped coroners (Matt Passmore, Hannah Emily Anderson) barely manage to wipe the smirks off their faces as they examine corpses.
Which is the Achilles Heel of this genre. The only character to generate pathos and interest of late is Jigsaw himself, and he’s only heard, pontificating about “justice,” asking for “simple blood sacrifice” and “revenge,” and seen in flashback.
“I ask you, what’s a life worth to you?”
We’re supposed to instantly loathe the mercenary mortgage broker (Ryan Braunstein) and, for no reason at all, to empathize with the younger and the prettier — hair over one eye, fishnet stockings, handsome young dude, etc.
The co-directing Spierig Brothers (“Daybreakers”) give the whole enterprise an expensive sheen — cool lighting, pricey torture gear, lots of close-ups and extreme close-ups.
Then they blow the most promising “How this character will die” bit — a bit of poisonous syringe Russian roulette.
That’s the “game” that all the “Saw” movies play, and it’s a dull one. Where’s the fun is Russian Roulette when you know, going in, that every chamber in the pistol is loaded?
MPAA Rating: R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and for language
Running time: 1:31