Last year, I wrote a rather scathing review of Saw V because, well, because it was an awful movie that sticks out like a sore thumb in the series. Tonight at midnight I watched the follow-up to that ignoble effort, and I walked out of the theater with a smile on my face. The gore is great, the weight of the drama is good, and the franchise has been redeemed.
After Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) is killed, Jigsaw’s replacement Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) goes through with the plan to frame him for the murders, but the FBI is delving deeper and getting closer. Jigsaw’s (Tobin Bell) big picture is finally realized in a game which sees a major insurance company executive (Peter Outerbridge) forced through a game that will have him questioning the cold calculations that decide who lives and who dies.
It would seem natural that anything after Saw V would have to be a breathe of fresh, rusted metal air. But believe me when I say that a lot of what made Saw great in the first place is back on all cylinders with this entry. Admittedly, the first trap doesn’t thrill completely, but the ones involved in insurance man William’s game are well-thought out and usually double as metaphors. One particularly gruesome trap sees an insurance lawyer working her way through a maze of steam jets and fire, and the carousel scene involving 6 people, a shotgun, and an ultimatum squeezes every last ounce of drama out of the situation that it can.
Chalk that up to a return (on screen at least) of Jigsaw as his story is further told through flashbacks. This is admittedly a slight pitfall of structure – having to constantly flashback to reveal more of us his life – but, 1) they at least never flashback during a flashback (Seriously, Saw V?) and 2) it’s a welcomed bit of medicine to take if it means having Jigsaw back in the mix in a big way.
While the gore and cleverness of the traps is a main draw (and an abundance of practical bones and blood), the story here is really strong. It’s a little heavy handed, specifically in one quick scene, but seeing a health insurance executive put through one of Jigsaw’s elaborate games involves a ton of opportunity for depth. It’s a figure in our lives that sticks to, or in William’s case invents, a prescribed formula that essentially decides who can afford that operation they need and who can’t. It seems like a ready-made villain, but Saw VI doesn’t cheaply put him on the chopping block and bring the hammer down. Instead, they display William as more than just bad because of his job title and then send him off through a harrowing journey that’s compelling, and he actual shows growth.
So dealing with the health insurance world does get a little political – something sort of refreshing from a movie like this – but it also fits in with Jigsaw’s history perfectly and gives him something large enough and meaningful enough to feed into his games. The film borrows fairly well tonally and thematically from Saw III where a man is put to the test by having the power to save or kill, but this film moves beyond that concept to torture William more psychologically than anything else. And it works really well.
Of course, it’s not just his game. Hoffman is on the other side of the glass, and his story is filled in alongside some other details about Jigsaw’s other accomplice, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). Sadly, Hoffman is still played by Costas Mandylor who continues to be just about as cardboard as an actor can get. I’m also not a fan of Betsy Russell, the actress who plays Jigsaw’s wife. Something about her seems far too soap opera-esque even for a flick like this.
But the acting isn’t all flat. Tobin Bell excels even more than in other entries. I still wouldn’t want him singing me happy birthday with that voice, but it’s obvious that the man can deliver, and he brings a thoughtfulness and compassion even to a gruesome mind like Jigsaw’s. The ethical conundrum of his non-murder that should have been beaming bright in the rest of the films is finally present front and center as you watch Bell deliver a strong, empathetic performance while mentally rooting for Peter Outerbridge’s insurance man to suffer.
Fortunately, Outerbridge also gives life to what could have easily been a cliche, having to stretch from cold crocodile tears to appreciation for the people around him. In a way, this film is like a fucked up adaptation of A Christmas Carol in that way with William as Mr. Scrooge. If, you know, if Jigsaw is the Ghost of Christmas Past and a bear trap strapped to your face is the Ghost of Christmas Future.
The film suffers in a few spots from its quick-cut editing and two noticable Duh Reminders (those flashbacks that show you something that happened ten minutes ago). The acting, as stated, is weak from some characters, and the score doesn’t make itself known as much as it could have. But over all, Saw VI is a great, sickening, rounded entry into the franchise and a fun horror film in its own right.
The Upside: More Jigsaw, clever traps and gruesome kills. A story with impact and weight to it.
The Downside: Costas Mandylor, some jarring shots, and the film’s belief that I won’t remember something ten minutes later.
On the Side: Director Kevin Greutert has extensive editing experience including editing all of the Saw films and has a last name that’s difficult to pronounce. The franchise is returning to Saw V director David Hackl for its next entry for some strange reason!
On the FSR Side: This is somehow post 56–666. Well played, fate.