Written by: Patrick Melston and Marcus Dunstan
Directed by: Kevin Greutert
Starring: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, and Shawnee Smith
Reviewed by: Brett G.
ĒOnce you see death up close, then you know what the value of life is.Ē
Itís hard to believe itís already been five years since the world was introduced to John Kramer, the man better known as Jigsaw, in the original Saw. That film's hair-raising climax not only ensured the Saw's status as a modern horror classic, but also ensured that Jigsaw himself would continue to wreak havoc for as long as the box office receipts kept rolling in. Indeed, not even the characterís death three years ago in Saw III managed to keep him down, as the series continued to unravel and reveal Johnís ultimate plans. The latest sequels were perhaps a victim of this, as both the forth and fifth films have trouble standing on their own, as each have been leading us towards some sort of conclusion or revelation. Finally, this has come in the form of Saw VI, this yearís annual October bloodletting thatís become just as much of a tradition as Halloween itself.
Picking up where the previous installment left off, Saw VI begins with Agent Strahm dead, but framed by Hoffman as a Jigsaw accomplice. FBI agent Erricson continues the manhunt to find Strahm while searching for the incriminating evidence to convict the FBI agent. Meanwhile, Hoffman sets Johnís final game in motion, a complex series of grueling tests for William Easton, a health insurance businessman who literally has to take the lives of his associates in his own hands if he ever wants to see his family again. Along the way, the film also fills in some gaps from previous films and reveals Jill Tuckís ultimate role in Jigsawís game.
Having been somewhat disappointed with the previous two Saw entries, I looked at the sixth installment to be the seriesí potential redemption and its rescue from being doomed to mediocrity. In this respect, the film delivers, as Saw VI is easily the most satisfying film since the third and is worthy of the legacy started by the first film. For the first time since Saw III, the series is back to firing on all cylinders and combines the seriesí trademark carnage with a tightly-focused theme that gets back to the heart of the franchiseís point: that everyone should cherish life. The use of healthcare insurance here is an inspired choice, as itís the perfect vehicle for Johnís games. Of course, itís also particularly relevant, given the nationís current political landscape; that said, the film never feels particularly heavy-handed or preachy. Instead, the film is more a scathing indictment of the bureaucracy that renders our current system ineffective and the callous, even frivolous ways insurance companies treat life and death.
As such, this Saw film finally returns some emotion and heart to the series; while neither IV or V fully degenerated into pointless gore exercises, each filmís underlying theme and message became a bit lost in the various plot threads and all the carnage. Saw VI is a much more tightly constructed experience, as newcomer Kevin Greutert (the editor of the previous five films) is able to weave a complex tale almost effortlessly. As is to be expected at this point, thereís a lot of narrative packed into the filmís 90 minute run-time, but Greutert paces it well, and transitions between the various segments with ease. Whereas some of the previous films have been a bit disjointed in this respect, Saw VI is the most coherently and tightly wound tale since the second entry. Greutertís direction otherwise mimics his predecessors, as the filmís trademark frenetic moments and constant flashbacks occur throughout, so it falls right in line with the style and tone established by the series.
Of course, the series has become most famous (or infamous) to the masses for its trap and gore sequences. Saw VI not only continues the trend, but also amplifies it, delivering some of the most inventive and memorable sequences the series has had to offer so far. People are ripped apart in every conceivable way: limbs get hacked off, skulls get crushed, and thereís even a melting via sulfuric acid. Indeed, this might be the most violent and deranged Saw film yet; of course, the violence isnít without meaning, as the context of Williamís game is perhaps the most clever yet. As previously stated, William must literally decide the fate of several characters during his game, which leads to some harrowing and suspenseful sequences that act as a sobering reminder of the value of life for William.
However, any Saw fan at this point knows that the sequences of violence arenít the most interesting aspect of these films; instead, itís the various plot threads involving John and his accomplices and acquaintances: his ex-wife Jill, Hoffman, and Amanda. One can argue that this is in fact the main event of the film, and is certainly its most interesting aspect, as this installment represents the culmination of Johnís deranged vision. This has been an increasingly tangled-web of deception and revelations since the fourth film, but it all comes together quite nicely here. The drama between the various parties all comes together in some interesting flashback sequences that shed light on several events and even radically alters the climax of a previous film in the series. These segments are paced very well within the framework of the story, and they essentially drive the narrative and keep the audiences wondering whatís around the next corner. These sequences also feature some of the finest performances in the series so far: Tobin Bell is absolutely on fire in the role of Jigsaw, particularly when heís passing judgment on the callous nature of the healthcare system. Costas Mandylor also comes into his own as Hoffman, who becomes the franchiseís most unlikeable and evil villain so far.
This leads up to the overriding question thatís been on the tongue of Saw fans everywhere: does Saw VI represent a satisfying resolution or offer any answers of any sort? The answer is a hesitant ďyes.Ē Considering that Saw VII was greenlit long before the final cut of Saw VI was assembled, one had to expect some loose ends to be left hanging. However, Part VI does finally deliver some closure for the threads opened a couple of movies back. While thereís really no huge, shocking revelation involved, the film is still strangely satisfying. Without spoiling much, the film takes a predictable direction with a couple of characters, but the direction ultimately works precisely because it wasnít sacrificed in favor of pointless shocks and twists. The filmís ultimate ending as it pertains to two of the principal characters is almost poetic and charged with emotion. Unfortunately, it feels a bit tacked on and is a bit convoluted (even for this series), but it is a sensible resolutionÖalmost.
Ironically, for a franchise whose signature ending involves the shutting of a door on a helpless victim, Saw certainly does enjoy leaving doors open ever so slightly, and Saw VI is no different; however, unlike its predecessors, it does manage to stand on its own by representing the probable end of Jigsawís games. It also manages to validate the previous two films, which have seemed to act as stop-gaps leading up to this moment; however, now that (nearly all) has been revealed, the importance of those two entries is understood. As such, Saw VI has become a tool that has perhaps saved the life of the series itself and has ensured that the story told by the first six entries has been a hell of a ride. Next year, Saw goes where many franchises have gone before (and, if they havenít, theyíre headed that way as we speak): 3D. Whether or not it can sustain the momentum will be interesting, but, at the very least, Saw VI has taken the series off of life support and leaves it with plenty of options to go in the future. I canít say that Jigsaw saved his best game for last, but he certainly saved one of his best here, and, as such, itís one game everyone should play. Buy it!
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