Review: Jigsaw (Dir. Michael and Peter Spierig, 2017)

Remember the first time John Kramer (Tobin Bell) uttered those menacing words “I want to play a game”? It was ten years ago before he succumbed to brain cancer in Saw IV. Not that death stopped him, mind you, he merely continued to torment from beyond the grave and yes, you’ve guessed it, he came back for yet another film outing.

Jigsaw wastes no time throwing us right into the action of a high speed car chase with lots of heavy breathing as cops pursue on foot. The Game has already started unbeknownst to Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and his partner Detective Keith Hunt (Clé Bennett). Following the discovery of a decapitated corpse hanging from a foot bridge, and after the autopsy provides a USB drive, and a DNA link to the long-dead Jigsaw Killer, Halloran and Hunt join forces with ME, Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore, think an Aussie Thomas Jane) and his assistant Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson). All are determined to get to the bottom of the case before more bodies pile up.

Meanwhile, five – who quickly become four – unsuspecting (although, as time will tell, not wholly innocent) strangers: Anna (Laura Vandervoort), Mitch (Mandela Van Peebles), Ryan (Paul Braunstein) and Carly (Brittany Allan) come-to in a room, each attached – by heavy chains around their necks – to the wall in front of them. A voice declares that “the truth will set [them] free”, mentions the denial of culpability…blood sacrifice… well, most will get the gist by now. However, this time, this lot actually listen to instruction and agree to work together in order to survive and come out of the game relatively unscathed.

Taking the reigns of the eight instalment are the Spierig Brothers. The German-born Australian identical twins, Michael and Peter, are no strangers to darker sci-fi/horror genre pieces at their filmography can attest: 2009’s Daybreakers, Predestination (2014) and, most recently the Jason Clarke and Helen Mirren-starrer Winchester. They certainly make Jigsaw (or Saw VIII if you will) their own which is no easy feat given the notoriety of the already established series.

Bringing their regular DoP Ben Nott along for the ride makes a huge difference to the visual look of the film; scenes are brighter with some scenes even taking place outside. The narrative is simplified, more logical and feels more like a police procedural thriller, there’s far less gore and “torture porn” than one has come to expect from these films and it’s all the better for it – that said the film does provide some excellent prosthetics and Special FX. It’s stylishly done, largely unpredictable and definitely plays more with the idea of sin and confession than previous films with Kramer painted as a God – to listen to producers in some of the extras, Tobin Bell is one – he has been resurrected more times than Lazarus and here to cleanse the soul.

Any fan of these films need not worry, while there are refreshing flourishes, this has more in common with the very first (and vastly superior) chapter and while it does manage to stand alone in its own right, make no mistake, it’s a Saw movie. Jigsaw would make the ideal end to a storyline – John’s epitaph – which some may argue ran out of steam long ago. However, with the general populace continually screwing each other over, maybe humanity needs Kramer (and his dulcet tones) to be our cinematic moral compass and continue to deliver penitence for a few more years to come.


Review: Texas Chainsaw (Dir: John Luessenhop, 2013)… No Massacre, No Substance


The old adage, “you can never have too much of a good thing” would appear to be the mantra of Hollywood horror producers – excellence being sporadic and fleeting. Friday the 13th tops the list of saturated horror franchises with twelve movies, followed by Halloween with ten and then there are the seven Saws. The next dire instalment of mediocrity is probably not too far behind.


It has been thirty-nine years since Tobe Hooper’s seminal family horror, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and over the years viewers have been party to sequels, new generations, prequels and  remakes – “Chain Saw Massacre” became “Chainsaw Massacre” and then no “Massacre” at all – none of which have even come close to the first. Part of what made Hooper’s original so influential was its stark cinematography, verisimilitude and its “true story” marketing (based loosely on the exploits of real-life serial killer Ed Gein) with a documentary-style voiceover and photographic stills filmed on 16mm. Its narrative and plot were, of course, entirely fictional but the finished film serves as a subtle commentary on the political climate and symptomatic of the era; something of worth created within budgetary constraints. The US was still knee-deep in the Vietnam War and this affecting horror visualised an apocalyptic landscape, sparse and abandoned through industrial capitalism (Robin Wood). It depicted a non-traditional, perhaps arguably degenerate, familial homestead transgressing the boundaries of the norm and surviving via cannibalistic insanity. As a movie, it stays with you long after viewing and its esteemed standing in the horror genre a testament to director Hooper and writer Kim Henkel, who created an influential piece of frightening art in spite of a profound lack of blood, guts and gore.


A whole decade has passed since Marcus Nispel’s futile remake starring Jessica Biel and seven years since …The Beginning which tried to explain away all elements which made the original so groundbreaking and yet still the unnecessary franchise additions keep coming. The latest attempt, Texas Chainsaw is released on DVD from the 27 May 2013 through LionsGate. The film begins moments after the 1974 release and condenses its pioneer into a few short frames culminating in Sally Hardesty’s (Marilyn Burns) bloodied and hysterical escape. A Hatfield and McCoy type battle ensues between the Sawyers and Hartmans which leaves the old farmhouse burned to the ground, several members of each party dead and a small child ripped from the arms of her mother. Flashforward to present day and Heather Miller (Percy Jackson’s Alexandra Daddario) learns of her adoption and her biological grandmother Verna who has left her a significant inheritance. She jumps into a Volkswagen with her boyfriend Ryan (Tremaine ‘Trey Songz’ Neverson) and friends Nikki (Tania Raymonde) and Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sanchez) to learn her true identity. They pick up a drifter along the way in the form of Darryl (Shawn Sipos) and arrive in Texas to revel in her new-found wealth and meet her birth family, of which there is only one surviving member.


Regurgitating elements of horror films including Psycho (1960), Halloween (1978) The Funhouse (1981), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) (there’s even a cheesy nod to Saw), this film lacks any of the originality, atmosphere, zeal or purpose of those previously mentioned. Its director John Luessenhop has, by his own admission, never directed horror before and it shows. He has attempted to make a film comprising mainly of replicated shots, imitating but never matching the original source material. The mise-en-scène is coaxed to the point of contrivance, resulting in no scares and making for dull, and insulting, viewing especially for a fan of the genre. The decision to discount the franchise instalments which have been made since ’74 is certainly an interesting one from writers Debra Sullivan, Adam Marcus and Kristen Elms, especially in the introduction of the extended Sawyer clan (the Sawyer family name was not introduced until the 1986 sequel).

Unfortunately, this lack of research and attention to detail is evident throughout the 90 minutes and, for a film selling itself as a saga continuation, is problematic. There is an attempt to humanise the psychopath to almost Frankensteinian level asking the audience to illicit empathy for a character that back in the day was motiveless and incapable of remorse and one who should be close to retirement age by now. The recurring motif of meat has all but been removed, here “flesh” obviously connoted through its Abercrombie-&-Fitch-alike cast of characters, all of whom are underdeveloped, and a leading lady who blatantly and irritatingly defies the timeline the writers and director are attempting to evoke. Throw in a few derivative proverbs regaling family, highlight vigilantism and have at least three cameo appearances that only draw attention to the shortcomings and you have got yourself a wholly atrocious and (un)bloody waste of time.