“Previously, on ‘Saw’…”
“Saw VI,” the latest entry in the horror franchise that has gone on for far too long already, opens with another charming game for which old Jigsaw has become infamous. This time, we find two investment bankers trapped in separate rooms, with a neo-medieval torture device locked onto their heads. The game: whoever saws off the heaviest amount of their own flesh within 60 seconds will live, while the other will have their skull crushed. And so, off we go again, in the latest installment of self-mutilation masquerading as a twisted message of morality.
Oh yeah, for those who started watching the “Saw” series at this entry, let it be perfectly clear: the titular villain, Jigsaw, AKA John Kramer (Tobin Bell) is indeed dead. In fact, he has been dead since 2006’s “Saw III.” But somehow, filmmakers knew how much money this series would be made, so a series that had its story expire three years ago has been put on life support until the cash stops flowing in.
From a narrative standpoint, the series is continuing, because John still had his games to play and death would not stop him. It’s almost a given at this point that he was either a genius or at least partially clairvoyant. Never mind the Rube Goldberg-inspired traps, but just how John knew that not only his postmortem schemes would be carried out to the letter, but that also those he intended to punish would follow their instructions and ultimately do exactly what was needed for the punishment and twists to commence is nothing short of an amazing feat of future-seeing brilliance (or a contrivance conveniently ignored by the filmmakers).
Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is now the sole instigator in the remainder of Jigsaw’s games. John, it seems, had one final mission for Hoffman. This involves a time limit maze game for insurance broker William (Peter Outerbridge) to navigate. William must make his way through Jigsaw’s dark carnival and face a series of tests, all of which lead to (a very painful and bloody) life-or-death struggle against several of his former colleagues and underlings. He must choose whether he lives or dies, and if he completes the maze, he can see his family again.
Hoffman, meanwhile, has problems of his own. He thought he had successfully framed another for taking over John’s work, by using body parts left over from the aforementioned opening scene, but FBI agents Perez (Athena Karkanis) and Ericson (Mark Rolston) are hot on the trail to additional clues that threaten to expose him. With Jigsaw’s final masterpiece going on, Hoffman must devise a game of his own to stay in the clear.
The movie, like the other installments, offers flashbacks to earlier parts in the story from both earlier entries, and occasionally introduces new flashback scenes revealing background information pertinent to the ongoing visceral shenanigans. And most of it is a waste of screen time and an excuse keep the story running. Apparently, one flashback offers a twist that lead to the climax of “III,” that we never find out until now. But it plays out as a “So what? Those guys are dead! Knowing this won’t change anything.” Perhaps it was also an excuse to shed more light on the “triangle” of sorts that developed between John, his wife Jill (Betsy Russell) and John’s assistant Amanda (Shawnee Smith). If that is the case, it is also irrelevant in “Saw VI,” since John and Amanda have been dead for three films now. On the bright side, this film could have been an entire film of flashbacks with maybe 10 minutes of new footage, like “Silent Night, Deadly Night 2.”
As usual, the gore and torture scenes are the supposed highlight, except the intricate traps and kills have become less innovative than ever before, save for one organ-melting finale. Writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton instead focus on giving the traps a political theme, that ties in with both the economy and health care crisis: William must meet the ghosts of his past misdeeds for using a cold, mathematical formula for turning down insurance claims and must now pay the price.
Ignoring the preachy themes of this film, this film also forces people who were more or less innocent to be tortured because of some cold-hearted jerk’s business policies. At the very least, the other people tortured in Jigsaw’s games had a reason to be tortured, even if they weren’t the focus of the scavenger hunt (at least as far as I can recall). Something else about these games in this one felt false, particularly in the opening. After receiving their instructions in how to play in that scene, the bankers go about sawing off their flesh with a little too much vigor. In the earlier “Saw” films, Jigsaw’s mental chess moves messed with his victims minds and left them desperate and thinking they had no other choice but self-mutilation for survival. Here, the captives go about almost enthusiastically with the decimation of their bodies.
It continues with later would-be victims as they become raving, frantic lunatics at the first sight of a Jigsaw pre-recording, never mind the bloody traps that await them. Apart from those caricatures, the acting from the main players is across-the-board terrible. Outerbridge is by far the worst of the bunch; he can’t even seem to sell the pain of rusty metal, boiling steam and even acid destroying his flesh properly. Mandylor is a bore as the replacement for Jigsaw; even with a full back story, he seems little more than a puppet for John’s vision. Russell as Jill is only useful as a tool for the customary surprise twist at the end (that is overshadowed by a slightly more effective concurrent twist that works only because of misleading information), while Smith’s Amanda is useless here.
As for Bell, he’s probably the best of the bunch as Jigsaw/John, but even his calm, twisted preaching about cherishing life is getting old. His performance, much like the videos played to his victims feels like it was pre-recorded and lifeless. But hey, he’s managed to do get a starring role in three films playing a dead serial killer that actually stays dead. He’s one up on Jason and Freddy in that regard.
Director Kevin Greutert has the easiest job: just copy the design and flow of the other films. As editor of the last five, pacing is no issue, nor is the soundtrack; just put on a bunch of screaming death metal/hardcore/industrial dirges and away we go. As for the design; well it seems like most of the kills come from the same abandoned warehouse, and all within a stretch of a few weeks time. This reviewer thinks Hoffman should have no worries; a competent cop by now should have taken the hint with all the bodies and the few survivors (plus or minus an appendage) stumble out of the same general area. By the way, what ever happened to Cary Elwes’ Dr. Gordon from the first film anyway?
Maybe we’ll find out in “Saw VII,” because, knowing these films, a simple contrivance that we never knew will serve as an excuse to eviscerate more lost souls. One positive is that the series is consistently bad, so it’s always fun tearing the films to shreds. Oh well, until next year, the game plays on.
FINAL GRADE: ONE STAR (OUT OF FIVE STARS)
From Lionsgate Films
Starring Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Shawnee Smith, Peter Outerbridge, Athena Karkanis, Mark Rolston and Samantha Lemole
Directed by Kevin Greutert
Written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Rated “R” – Grisly violence, gore, torture and language