Tobin Bell - John Kramer/Jigsaw
Costas Mandylor - Detective Mark Hoffman
Betsy Russell - Jill Tuck
Peter Outerbridge - William Easton
Mark Rolston - Agent Dan Erickson
Athena Karkanis - Agent Lindsay Perez
Shawnee Smith - Amanda
Tanedra Howard - Simone
Genre - Horror/Torture Porn
Running Time - 93 Minutes
Score - 3 Howls Outta 4
Continuing a modern Halloween tradition, SAW VI was met with not much fanfare when it was released in theaters back in October 2009. The box office soured on it, mainly because it's another SAW sequel [many of us have been tired of this franchise like two movies ago], and because of the overhyped phenomenon known as PARANORMAL ACTIVITY taking away all the attention SAW VI was after. Even though two more SAW films were announced before the release, many wondered whether Lionsgate should even bother.
Unlike the other SAW films, I didn't see SAW VI in a theater. I wasn't a big fan of the last two films and felt my money would be better spent on something else. If I had wanted to watch a SAW film around Halloween time, I'd just pop in my DVDs of SAW 1 through III. So I waited six months after its theatrical release to sit down and actually watch it on DVD, having very low expectations. After all, it's a fifth sequel and SAW V was a really bland and pointless film. Surprisingly, SAW VI was an entertaining and smart film that actually breathed new life into this dying franchise. But is it too late?
Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is still carrying on John Kramer's (Tobin Bell) work as Jigsaw, putting people in deadly traps so they can value life after taking advantage of it. In a twist of events, it seems Hoffman has been working together with Kramer's wife, Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell) - both wanting to carry out Kramer's final wishes, although in different ways. Jill was left an assignment in Kramer's will, but Hoffman [finding out about it] wants to take total control of the mission, leaving Jill bitter.
The assignment? To kidnap William Easton (Peter Outerbridge), who is the Chief Executive Officer of a medical insurance company called Umbrella [ella, ella, ay ay ay] Health. Easton is placed in a series of traps that attempt to teach him that he shouldn't play God with people's lives, especially when his family is involved.
At the same time, a returning Agent Lindsay Perez (Athena Karkanis) and Agent Dan Erickson (Mark Rolston) are close to figuring out who's behind the current Jigsaw murders, making Hoffman concerned about the truth coming out.
Wow, that kind of made sense. Is this really a SAW film?
SAW VI ended up being a better viewing experience than I was expecting - WAY better. After the uber-confusing SAW IV and the bland SAW V, I had pretty much given up on this franchise. But SAW VI kind of brought back some of the elements that I enjoyed in the original SAW trilogy, making SAW VI a standout in a long winded franchise. In fact, I can honestly say that SAW VI is the best SAW flick since SAW III, which isn't saying a whole lot.
I think what makes SAW VI more watchable than the last two installments is that the narrative carries the film instead of the traps carrying the film and the narrative. Writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan [who wrote SAW IV and SAW V, as well as FEAST] bring in a humanistic aspect to the story that makes the viewer connect to what's going on right away. It's ironic that I watched this film after the historical health care deal in America, but the idea of making health insurance big wigs the victims of Jigsaw's current traps is pretty genius. It's an issue most of us can relate to and seeing how much of a business it is that seems to hurt more people than help them, you can't help but root for Jigsaw to prevails over these bastards. This storyline definitely gives SAW VI a thematic resonance that some of the others failed to accomplish. There's an actual legitimate and logical reason why Jigsaw does what he does here, making the narrative much stronger. Before, we had to watch victims make choices in order to survive. Now, we have to watch someone who thought he was God actually make choices on who lives and who dies. Why this wasn't done in SAW IV or even SAW V is beyond me?
The character development was also a lot stronger here than in the past two SAW films. The William Easton character, in particular, had several layers that I was able to relate and distance myself from him. While he did bad things as the head of a health insurance company, declining sick, dying people due to their status financially or for whatever reason, I could also see where he was coming from. He's a businessman. He has to make money and do whatever it takes to make sure of that, even if the things he does are morally questionable. So in a way, he's a douche but he's also a human being. So I enjoyed the struggle during his "game" because it was then that he realized that being in charge of people's lives was more than about making money. It was about saving your own soul.
I also enjoyed the development of the recurring characters. John Kramer may be dead, but the flashbacks that continue to show his descent into the Jigsaw persona are always interesting. I still believe that Jigsaw is one of the most interesting horror movie villains of all time. He does bad things but we're behind him when he does them. He makes me question morality and whether or not I would do the exact same thing if I were in his shoes. His arc made sense to what was happening and I dug it. Same goes to Jill Tuck, who hasn't had much of anything to do besides star in flashbacks with Jigsaw, revealing that she was the catalyst for his descent. I had always wondered if she knew about what her husband was up to and we get the answer in this installment. While she could have been in the film more, her scenes were very effective and added to the narrative rather than deter from it. And then we have Hoffman, who I've made very clear in my SAW IV and SAW V reviews that I'm not a fan of. But somehow, I enjoyed watching him in this installment. Maybe it's because he actually had something meaningful to do for a change and I could understand his goals. Also, the flashbacks with him, Jigsaw, and Amanda told a lot and answered a lot of questions I had about this trio. Instead of being used as an afterthought in the other films, he finally felt like a true villain here. I'm actually curious now what will happen with him in SAW VII. Damn you, screenwriters!
I still think the dialogue is bland though. The way people speak is really silly to me, as if talking like human beings until they utter expositional dialogue to remind us who they are, how they're connected to other characters in the franchise, and why they do what they do. We get it, guys. You don't need to hammer us in the head about certain things. The horror audience isn't stupid. We can figure things out. But yeah, it's like watching a soap opera that's 70 percent summarizing and 30 percent moving things forward.
Speaking of soap operas, the direction by Kevin Greutert kind of makes it feel and look like one. I have to say... SAW VI looked really cheap to me. I don't know if it was the dreary cinematography [which I actually liked alot], the lack of gore [pretty tame for a SAW movie], the traps, or what. But I felt like the other installments were more big budget. That's not a bad thing, but it sort of threw me off a bit. Greutert does an okay job behind the camera. While the quick editing is still there [although not as much], it's pretty much a point-and-shoot affair. I do think the pacing was extremely well done, as it felt a lot shorter than it was [and this film was short to begin with], so that was a plus. There were some nice moments of suspense and tension as well, especially the opening and the ending. So yeah, not the best direction in the world but well enough for a SAW film, especially this late in the game.
The traps in SAW VI aren't as memorable as the traps in previous SAW films, but they serve their purpose. I thought the opening trap was definitely a throwback to the original SAW trilogy, where people had to cut off body parts just to survive. I actually cringed during the opening, especially during the limb amputation moments. I also thought the trap with the acid towards the end was really fucked up, but in a good way. I did think the hanging trap was interesting as a concept, but wasn't as memorable or as gory as it should have been. The shotgun merry-go-round was fun only because of the characters trying to convince Easton why he should give them mercy while bashing the other characters. It does seem that the SAW producers are running out of ideas, but these traps were definitely an improvement over the boring ones in SAW V. So that has to count for something.
The acting was your typical SAW fare. Tobin Bell still rocks as Kramer/Jigsaw. I could watch the guy in anything. He's a great actor who's interesting to watch and hear. Betsy Russell was good again as Jill Tuck. I wish they'd give her a bigger role but she does fine with what she's given. Peter Outerbridge did a nice job was Easton, making him unlikeable and sympathetic at the same time. His performance, especially while playing his "game", was very strong. And while I wasn't a fan in the previous films, Costas Mandylor sold me this time as Hoffman. I think the guy just needed better material to chew on, and he did a nice job when it finally happened. His smug demeanor and cold voice really added a lot to his character, especially when he actually did things that mattered. And it's always nice to see Shawnee Smith's cameo as Amanda. I still miss that crazy bitch.
One last thing - I loved the twist ending here. I was not expecting the reveal of the relationships between certain characters. I thought it was very clever and even the set up for SAW VII was pretty good. I'm just hoping it's the last one. Damn, that last sentence may be the funniest thing I've written in a while.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE THANKING MY LUCKY STARS THAT I LOOKED AWAY FROM ENTERING THE HEALTH PROFESSION
- Jigsaw wanted to test two bank lenders for preying on those with financial problems, knowing they would take pleasure in repossessing their assets when they couldn't pay the loans back. In our current economic state, it's refreshing to see that President Obama has hired a Treasurer who takes initiative and wants to save the economy from greedy bastards. If that's not making change, I don't know what is.
- Some of the characters work for "Umbrella Health". If I see Milla Jovovich running up walls and fighting people infected by a virus in this flick, I'm gonna have a fit. Most likely of laughter.
- One of the traps involved holding your breath until the other participant couldn't any longer and got crushed by a piston. I guess Faith Hill would lose this game badly.
- Easton's wife shouted "Why are you doing this?" while looking up and doing a spin as she was trapped in a room. Wow, whispering to ghosts has really aged Jennifer Love Hewitt!
- Some chick got scared as she went through a maze that consisted of pipes releasing hot steam. Wait... a woman who doesn't appreciate pipe near the face? I'm guessing she's a big fan of the Logo Network.
- Eddie Winslow from Family Matters got shot to death in a trap because Easton wouldn't spare his life. I'm sure the one question that ran through Easton's mind after the fact was, "Did I do that?"
THE FINAL HOWL
I'm surprised to be writing this but I actually liked SAW VI more than I was expecting. The narrative was ambitious and made sense, the acting was decent, and the direction did enough to make this sequel better than it should have been. It's not as good as SAW or SAW III, but it's on par with SAW II. It's nice to see that the SAW series is finally moving somewhere interesting. I'm just wondering if anyone really cares at this point. I guess we will see this October with the release of SAW VII in 3-D.