Jigsaw? Still dead. But top-billed Tobin Bell still accrues significant screen time via flashbacks, while in present-day, his posthumous games unfold, much to the dismay of an insurance company executive. Minor spoilers ahead.
Part one opened with two strangers chained to opposite sides of a dingy bathroom with a third man laying face down between them, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. As the film unfolded, we discovered the men’s connections to one another. We also learned about their abductor, Jigsaw, a man diagnosed with terminal cancer, seeking to help those he deems wasting their lives. The film builds to its inevitable climax that sees one man saw off his foot to free himself.
This entry opens with a slender woman and overweight man strapped into timed deathtraps opposite one another. Unlike the first movie, which unfurled the mystery of their identities, we’re told straight out these people are predatory lenders. Bad people, but ones with no direct connection to Jigsaw. Unlike the first film, which forced cooperation between the captives, this trap forces competition. Whomever cuts off the most flesh by weight lives, the other dies. Unlike the first film, which culminated in its gruesome amputation, this one opens with the woman severing her own arm to beat the man.
How far we’ve come. Jigsaw’s icy detachment contrasted with his narrative stakes gave him a resonance and pathos in the original. Each subsequent entry diminished these qualities by expanding Jigsaw’s backstory. Now he’s a sympathetic people’s champion taking on The Man.
At least the deathtraps entertain. They’re the new slasher kills, each more gruesome and inventive than the last. And I admit, the ever-expanding Jigsaw continuity holds a certain charm, rewarding fans by transforming one film’s throwaway shot into the next film’s fulcrum.
This entry harkens back to part three, with traps designed to torture the victim’s mind. That entry saw a man forced to choose between saving or torturing various persons involved in the hit-and-run death of his toddler son. This entry sees Jigsaw tormenting an insurance company executive. Each trap forces him to choose which of his coworkers will live and which will die. According to Jigsaw, insurance companies do this every day.
This logic displays a fundamental misunderstanding of how insurance companies work. Putting aside the morality, they run on risk models, taking bets as premiums and offering odds with an unbeatable house edge. Jigsaw punishing this behavior is akin to punishing a casino for winning. But everyone hates insurance companies, so let’s give that a pass. The bigger problem with these traps is how they violate one of Jigsaw’s prior tenants. He’s adamant that he’s not a murderer. He always gives his victims a way out. But this entry’s traps force at least one person to die. This makes them more intense, but doesn’t jibe with the series rulebook.
Thus, like many long-running franchises, it’s lost the simplicity that made the original so resonant, but compensates through spectacle and visceral thrills. And by once again showcasing the city’s police force as beyond inept, it retains another of the franchise’s ongoing tropes. If you’ve made it this far into the series, this entry should entertain.