The Saw series gets a lot of flack, some of it deserved, some of it not. As a movie fan, I'm supposed to despise films like this for their brutal gore and relentless depravity, but Saw does what no other horror franchise even tries. It gives us an overarching story that fits into the canon of the franchise. Each new entry isn't simply more of the same, much in the way the films in the Friday the 13th series are. No, these movies further along the narrative. A common term used to define the series is "torture porn," a term that I highly object to when discussing Saw. The word "porn" refers to videos where story doesn't matter. When people watch porn, they watch it for the sex. It's largely the same when people watch something like Hostel. Story matters not, blood means everything. Well, the story is vital to the Saw series. Yes, it's gruesome and borders on the brink of torture porn (especially the opening scene in this newest installment, which is disgusting and unnecessary), but that isn't all it is. It is something more.
To know exactly what is going on in Saw VI, one must be familiar with each previous entry, which is a feat even for people like myself who have seen them all. In past years, I have attended Sawfest, a marathon of each Saw movie leading up to the midnight premiere of the new one. Doing so helped me piece together the puzzles presented in each film, but I did not attend this year. With all of the little intricacies that make up this franchise, it's tough to describe the film having not seen the others in a while, but I will do my best. Keep in mind, it is impossible to discuss this installment without ruining major plot points from the previous ones. Consider that your spoiler warning.
Saw VI picks up directly where Saw V left off. Agent Strahm is dead and Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is left as Jigsaw's replacement. After finding Strahm's fingerprints at the scene of a Jigsaw trap, the cops start to believe that he may be the person behind it all. Meanwhile, William (Peter Outerbridge), the head of a health insurance company, is being forced to play an elaborate game where he will come across people he knows in his ultimate goal to get to his family at the end.
The victims in Saw VI, as with the rest of the films, are united by one common trait. In this one, they are all insurance scum, people who will do anything to get out of covering someone when they are ill. William finds himself in Jigsaw's game not because he doesn't appreciate his own life, but because he doesn't appreciate others. He has no trouble turning people away and putting them on their deathbeds and it is this unethical business practice that the film focuses on. With the health care debate raging on in Washington and a system that benefits the wealthy while the sick suffer, this is a timely subject for comment. I'm surprised I'm saying this, but Saw VI actually makes a valid point about health care in its own sick, twisted way.
During the game, William is forced to make the same decisions he makes at his day job, taking many facts into account and deciding the value of a person's life. In one particularly inspired scene, two people are placed in front of him and he must choose which one lives. One is a healthy young man, but has no family. He has a lot to look forward to in life, but if he dies, nobody would notice or care. The other is an older woman decreasing in health, but has children and a husband who love her. According to the health care plan of his company—the plan he devised himself—he should deny the old woman her right to live, but how could he possibly justify taking a mother and a wife away from her family? The way the traps tie into the health care system is actually quite brilliant.
Still, I'm starting to feel the wear and tear of the franchise. Being the sixth film in six years is enough to make anybody pine for a definite ending and at this point, the movies are doing nothing but stringing us along for the ride.
As with every Saw picture thus far, there are twists at the end that force you to rethink not only the events you've just witnessed, but the entire series as a whole. One twist in this installment goes all the way back to the third film and puts reasoning behind a certain character's actions that has been left untouched until now. These smaller twists are effective and work well, but the one major twist, the one that will define the next movie, is blatantly obvious from the get go, to the point where I had no doubt in my mind what it would be, and it's not even that interesting. By the time the credits rolled around, I didn't have questions lingering in my head about what would happen in future installments because if this twist is any indication, it all gets predictable from here on out.
One of the reasons the Saw franchise has endured as long as it has is because Jigsaw, played terrifically by the excellent Tobin Bell, is a fascinating character. He was a man who appreciated life, yet his was unfairly being snatched away from him, so he took others who weren't as appreciative and tested them, forcing them to confront death in order to see the value they were squandering away.
Jigsaw has become just as much of a pop culture icon as Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees at this point, but his replacement killer, Detective Hoffman, isn't nearly as interesting. He doesn't have that multi-layered personality, calm demeanor, or gratitude for life that defined Jigsaw. He's really nothing more than just another schmoe in Jigsaw's giant game, which really takes away a lot of the impact the series previously possessed.
Although I do consider myself a fan, the Saw franchise is getting a bit too convoluted for its own good. A healthy portion of Saw VI is spent in flashbacks, giving us new back story that stacks on top of what is already an extensive history for these characters. Unless you're a die hard fan, expect to be confused at some points. Nevertheless, I got through Saw VI alive and intact, not ecstatic from its outcome, but not particularly disappointed either. If the writers, Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, are to be believed, this story runs up to number eight, but I'm afraid that by that time, nobody will care anymore. Though I am recommending Saw VI, they need to step it up in number seven for this franchise to continue to enjoy the longevity its fanbase has, perhaps unwittingly, provided.
Saw VI receives 3/5