The "Saw" series sputtered out after a series of releases so increasingly awful that they became as torturous as the devices the films' victims suffered.
But like any movie serial killer worth his creepy mask, the franchise is back from the dead when least expected in the form of "Jigsaw," which managed to lurk from the shadows without drawing much attention. The big, shocking reveal: The movie isn't bad.
The brother directorial duo of Peter and Michael Spierig reinvigorates the tired torture game series by sticking to the formula of the earlier films. A group of unsuspecting victims wakes up to find themselves stuck in an elaborate series of death traps, forced to decipher clues and take part in sadistic games to survive.
The Spierigs would have been forgiven for forgetting all the murky developments in the previous films in favor of a fresh reboot, but they take the harder route by somehow acknowledging and respecting the various false deaths and convoluted justifications of the madness in the movies that came before to craft a true sequel. And still more impressively, they manage to execute a surprising twist, then back it up with an ending montage that validates the clues the film cleverly concealed throughout.
Not that much of the audience who plops into seats for a pre-Halloween fright will care all that much about continuity. Most will be looking for shiver-inducing suspense with sadistic, did-I-really-just-see-that payoffs. The gore packs all the more impact because the no-name actors sell their characters as convincing, relatable victims rather than hapless fodder.
While "Jigsaw" is no classic -- content to go for gross-outs and cheap thrills whenever possible -- it's got enough of a brain to make the senseless violence seem frighteningly sensible.
The pieces may be flimsy, but they manage to fit.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.