The “Saw” series has lost some teeth (so to speak) since the first film slashed its way into horror history in 2004. Blame a succession of convoluted sequels, which compensated for a repetitive “bad folks stuck in elaborate torture chambers” formula by venturing outside the slaughterhouse to pad out the backstory of the maniacs behind the murders.
After a seven-year layoff, the eighth “Saw” movie, “Jigsaw,” is meant to be a fresh start — though not until a last-minute twist does it became clear what sets this entry apart. Until then, the picture looks very familiar, jumping between scenes of ordinary people in a deadly maze and scenes of cops trying to figure out who’s scattering corpses around their city.
Directors Michael and Peter Spierig are confident filmmakers, and they build suspense from the sequences where victims are goaded into playing the villain’s no-win games. The raison d’être for any “Saw” will always be the clever traps, which here include a chain that pulls prisoners toward a buzzsaw-wall and a silo that fills first with grain and then with various sharp implements.
But while Callum Keith Rennie and Matt Passmore give polished performances as the detective and forensic scientist working the case, the tension’s broken every time the Spierigs cut away from where the action is. That preoccupation with marginalia is what led the series to flag a decade ago.
“Jigsaw” isn’t awful. It’ll do the job for anyone who must see a “Saw” movie in theaters on Halloween weekend. But a trip to a real-world escape room — or rewatching the original “Saw” — might be a better use of time and money.
Rating: R, for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and for language
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: In general release