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Serial killer John ‘Jigsaw' Kramer has certainly left his mark on the world. He was diagnosed with cancer too late to treat it, so decided to use what little time he had left to impart some justice. To this end, he'd kidnap people that skirted the system and made them play games which involved deadly traps, which in-and-of themselves were contextualized as a ticket to redemption. Police didn't care for this brand of vigilantism and did everything in their power to bring Jigsaw down, but with copycats stepping up to continue his legacy, it was easier said than done. But things did eventually go quiet, although Jigsaw's name had already been firmly cemented in the annals of history. Now 10 years after his death, the games have begun again. Every piece of evidence points to Kramer pulling the strings himself, and everyone's now deciphering how a dead man - if he's actually dead - could leave fresh DNA and vocal recordings at the scene of each crime.
I'd wager this wasn't called Saw VIII so newcomers wouldn't feel alienated, but in that respect, I don't think the filmmakers did a great job. Some people believe Jigsaw is actually a remake, and I have a feeling that this installment will make those people feel incredibly lost. It'd be a moot point if this movie was at least respectful of its veteran fans, but it fails on that front, too.
When there's potential for half of your audience to feel lost while the rest feel insulted, that's an issue.
For the latter, the inherent problem with dangling a question like "is Jigsaw really alive" is that we know he's not. He died in Saw III and that fact was further confirmed in Saw IV. I respect the predicament the filmmakers are in, because everyone loves seeing Tobin Bell show up and do his thing, and considering none of the other villains were held in high regard, they have to work him in to the story. This illustrates just how big of a Jigsaw problem this franchise has, because how many times are they going to add bits of back story without being blatantly revisionist (pretty fine line at this point, I know)? It's time this series puts a new face behind the black cloak and pig mask, and this film clearly serves as a setup for that. Unfortunately, the character they've chosen to fill those shoes just isn't as captivating as John Kramer. There's room for the filmmakers to change my mind in the next installment, of course, but I'm doubtful they will.
But these are my objective complaints, courtesy of the reviewer cap I wear when I sit down to write. From the perspective of someone who's enjoyed most of the franchise thus far, Jigsaw wasn't bad. Yeah, the characters are completely forgettable, but they have been for some time, haven't they? At this point, I'm tuning in for the overdramatic whodunit that's married to buckets of gratuitous blood and gore, and Jigsaw delivers these all important staples in spades. The story, although attempting to be a little too clever for its own good, is competent, and the traps are still enough to make you squirm in your seat until a body is disposed of in the most horrendous of ways. If that's all you've wanted from another installment, then you could certainly do worse. In fact, I'd say this easily bests the one film I didn't like (Saw 3D).
All things considered, while Jigsaw isn't amazing, it's precisely what you'd expect: just another Saw film, warts and all. It doesn't modify the wheel, let alone reinvent it, which I believe is going to make this film very dismissive to the people who are consuming it for their first time on home video. If you're not interested in the same old thing, you can safely avoid this installment. If, however, you're looking for the victims to be just as hateable and disposable, the mystery as convoluted as ever, and the traps as gruesome, you'll be mostly satisfied. The death machines that have been cooked up aren't as creative as those we've seen in the past, but they get the job done and then some. In regards to where this film falls in the series qualitatively, it's better than its predecessor, and I'd also take it over Saw IV. I doubt adhering to the status quo is going to give this franchise long(er) lasting legs, though. Not changing one iota ensured there'd be no positive word of mouth, and Jigsaw being the second lowest financial debut for the franchise proves that. I'd imagine future installments will generate even less interest, so get your fill in now while you can.
Here's one area where Jigsaw does do things a little differently. Prior installments were presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which really helped with that grimy ‘in your face' aesthetic. Jigsaw, however, is the first film in the franchise to go wider at 2.39:1, providing more of a theatrical feel.
Sourced from a 2K DI, this 4K presentation (2160p utilizing HEVC codec) looks pretty darn good. More often than not, detail is remarkable. How much you'll see will vary a little based on the color scheme, but that's par for the course. Scenes that are bathed in gray and blue tones tend to hide the finer side of things, but this film doesn't produce that aesthetic as much as the rest of the franchise has. There's a number of outdoor shots and even indoor settings which produce what we're to believe is natural light, and that's where you really get a sense of what this encode is capable of.
Speaking of lighting and the like, HDR lends itself to Jigsaw quite well. Black levels range from deep and inky to being raised quite a bit, but the latter is more of an artistic choice than a fault of the HDR pass. To that end, contrast is also rather impressive. Highlights are most effective during those indoor barn shots where ‘sunlight' is peaking between its wooden slats, but a couple of the traps really stand out, and especially the red glowing eyes of the Jig-doll as it wheels its way onto the scene. Skin tones can be a touch on the warm side at times, but it's not consistent.
Anyone wondering if this is a step up over the Blu-ray, it absolutely is. Colors are more saturated, shadows show a little more detail, and the uptick in overall detail alone is worth recommending the UHD for.
The Dolby Atmos track on this disc is quite the treat. The film begins with a brief action sequence involving a car chase, and it's in this moment that you'll realize just how much effort went into the film's sound design. Because we're dealing with traps and spooky settings, the surrounds are constantly being used. Some effects, such as the saws in the room most of us first saw in trailers, come at the audience from all angles while there's also plenty of environmental ambience to go around. Dialogue is always prioritized and nothing otherwise feels out of place. The only thing I felt could have been better was the LFE. It's there, but not nearly as impressive as what I've grown accustomed to on other modern films.
There isn't much on this disc, but at least Lionsgate thought well enough to put it on the 4K disc instead of just leaving it to the included Blu-ray to do all the heavy lifting. Despite the extras lack in number, though, the content here is actually solid. With the commentary and especially the documentary (which is nearly an hour and a half in length), it's hard to ask for more.
-Commentary with Producers Mark Burg, Oren Koules and Peter Block
-I Speak For The Dead: The Legacy of Jigsaw Documentary
-The Choice Is Yours: Exploring the Props
Jigsaw isn't quite the ‘gotta see it' revitalization that'll keep the franchise going for a long time, but it's respectable. Whether you should see it or not will depend on what you were expecting. If you were hoping for something more than just another Saw flick, you'll be sorely disappointed. If, however, you're perfectly content with revisiting the formula you've been subjected to time and time again, then Jigsaw will do right by you. I lean closer to the latter, and I wouldn't mind seeing what the filmmakers come up with for the ninth installment. Even so, there's another barrier for consumers: The price. Yes, a lot of 4K discs cost $25 day and date, but Lionsgate - who have sort of been pioneers in regards to budget 4K releases - may be overestimating how much people are willing to pay for Saw. Either way, this release comes recommended.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!