Funny, how perceptions change. “Saw VI” is pretty much the same film we’ve seen five times before, and yet, to my shock and amazement (and probably to yours as well), I found that I didn’t hate or even dislike this movie. It’s not good enough to recommend, but it’s also not the terrible experience I had been expecting. My written reviews for “Saw IV” and “Saw V” were filled with animosity, mostly because the whole thing seemed like another case of sequel overload stemming from a horror film that wasn’t all that good to begin with. For once, we have a “Saw” film that attempts to engage the audience, not only through a few clever revelations, but also through a none-too-subtle commentary on current political issues. It doesn’t always succeed, but this time, I could tell that an effort was actually being made.
All the same, it still suffers from a lot of the previous film’s problems. I’ve never understood or agreed with the idea of continuing the story when the main antagonist, John Kramer, a.k.a. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), has already died. When not shown in flashback, we see police lieutenant Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) overseeing Jigsaw’s “master plan.” Can you imagine a “Nightmare on Elm Street” film in which Freddy Kruger is seen only in flashback? While someone else slices people open with razorblades for fingers? Never mind. There’s also the fact that this is by no means a scary movie–it’s impossible to be genuinely frightened by situations this preposterous. The gore is plentiful, and while I can’t say I had been expecting anything less, I never really enjoyed looking at it. The story, while interesting, is also convoluted and hard to follow, with far too many subplots interwoven throughout.
The central conflict involves William Easton (Peter Outerbridge), the sleazy executive of a health insurance company who grants or denies coverage based on the probability of a person’s illness. In essence, he chooses who lives and who dies. Unfortunately, it’s for this very reason that he ended up on Kramer’s short list of people to be “rehabilitated,” and he soon finds himself trapped in yet another series of elaborate and painful traps, each more implausible than the last. In one, six of his junior co-workers find themselves chained to a rotating carousel, which periodically stops in front of a loaded shotgun; Easton has the power to prevent only two of them from getting blasted, so it becomes a matter of choosing who will live and who will die.
Also trapped in Jigsaw’s lair is Pamela Jenkins (Samantha Lemole), a shady reporter, and a mother and son (Shauna MacDonald and Devon Bostick) who, for reasons I won’t reveal, share a connection with Easton. They wake up in a room rigged with a tank of hydrofluoric acid and a switchbox with the words “live” and “die” written on it.
Another subplot, this one involving Kramer’s widow, Jill Tuck (Betsey Russell), sheds some light on who she is and just how much she knew about her husband’s extracurricular activities. I can’t say I was completely satisfied with what was revealed, but hey, at least I got to see the contents of the box she was given in the last movie. We also learn a bit more about Kramer’s oldest apprentice, Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith), and her strained affiliation with Hoffman.
In the final subplot, The FBI, led by Dan Erikson (Mark Rolston) and a surprise survivor, are actively trying to discover the identity of the person continuing the Jigsaw killings. Hoffman tries to misdirect them by planting physical evidence linked to the late Peter Strahm. But the more Erikson and his team learn about Strahm, the less sense his involvement makes. One need only listen to the tone of Hoffman’s voice to know that he’s the culprit, but, unfortunately, convention dictates that law enforcement in horror movies know as little as possible until it’s too late. Otherwise, the filmmakers wouldn’t have an excuse to include more scenes of violent, bloody torture.
And what of that? “Saw VI” opens with two predatory lenders in a Jigsaw trap, one they can only survive by … well, let’s just say it’s similar in principle to “The Biggest Loser,” where the winner is the one who sheds the most pounds. Later on, someone melts before our eyes after being injected with lethal doses of acid. Some are shot, leaving gaping holes in their chests, while others have their heads impaled. I realize that the fans get a kick out of this, but really, isn’t there a point where enough is enough? Fortunately, this movie takes the time to include more compelling story ideas, such as a flashback sequence in which Kramer astutely observes what most of us already know: Here in America, health is not determined by patients or doctors, but by insurance companies.
The ending is the film’s biggest miscalculation. The final five minutes play like an editing free-for-all, with revelations, flashbacks, lines of dialogue, and gruesome shots all merged together in a frenetic visual nightmare. It’s so densely packed that it soon becomes impossible to figure out what’s being revealed and why. In spite of this, it was still more thrilling than the ending to last year’s film, which was advertised as being shocking beyond belief but didn’t deliver as such. So there you have it. “Saw VI,” while not a great movie, at least shows signs that the series is heading in the right direction. For a horror movie, at least. If this trend continues, who knows what could happen? Maybe I’ll actually recommend “Saw VII.”
– Chris Pandolfi