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It's been almost a decade since Saw: The Final Chapter brought the franchise that helped make Lionsgate what it is today to a thudding conclusion. The series was in as bad a shape as John Kramer was at the end of Saw III, and it really needed to end. At least, until some folks decided that the guy with the puppet and a killer vengeance streak needed to come back. The good news about Jigsaw is that it's not the worst film in the series, and it's actually half-way decent. The bad news? It's still a bit of a damned mess.
Ten years after Jigsaw's games have ended, John Kramer's (Tobin Bell) legacy has been given a reboot. A new game is being played for blood, and five contestants will have to follow the rules, confess their sins, and make their sacrifices in order to atone for what they've done. With two detectives (Callum Keith Rennie and Cle Bennett) trying to catch up to the game unfolding on their watch, there's a bigger question that needs to be answered: did John Kramer really die?
For a franchise that sprinted through seven consecutive installments, and pretty much wore itself into the ground in the process, Jigsaw is somewhat refreshing in the fact that it actually manages to not find itself trapped in the depths of franchise hell. Part of that is thanks to The Spierig Brothers, whose directing style removes a lot of the jump cut editing and extreme camera play that made Saw's earlier entries famous. But the other piece of Jigsaw's limited success is the fact that it doesn't heavily rely on legacy characters and events, a practice that only complicated the series as it continued further into the halls of madness.
Alas, there's still problems with the game Jigsaw is playing at, as there's not enough balance between the investigative half of the picture and the game. In fact, if they'd just done away with the game dynamic and focused on the police for the film's running time, its clean break from the usual grind could have reinvented the franchise. That potential's still there, but it's hampered by the fact that Saw movies are going to always be Saw movies, which leads to a not particularly inspired game, a batch of ok, but unmemorable characters, and even less inventive showcases of gore. For a movie that boasts a trap that John Kramer never used, Jigsaw doesn't pass up an opportunity to use every trick in the playbook.
Flaws included, Jigsaw isn't a hard film to watch. It's somewhat enjoyable, it's not a long film by any stretch, and it's just in time for some simple Halloween fun. Dare I say it, if Lionsgate put some more muscle behind the storytelling and budgeting to a follow-up, the promise seen in Jigsaw could be fulfilled in a future installment. There are still some loose ends to tie up, and after reviving their Saw brand, why would the studio embark on such a journey and not follow through? Jigsaw doesn't feel like the resuscitation the franchise needed, but it doesn't dig a bigger hole to bury itself in, either. Play this game at your own risk, as you already know the rules, and whether you win or lose depends on when you lost faith in the franchise.