Surprisingly, this one ain’t too bad. The Saw franchise started off in 2004 with the ingeniously written but poorly directed original; each year hence has seen a financially successful sequel released in time for Halloween. Saw II was the best of a mediocre bunch that has slowly declined in quality until now: Saw VI, directed by the editor of the previous five films, Kevin Greutert, is easily the most entertaining since the second installment.
Admittedly, these sequels have an appealing degree of inventiveness. Most horror sequels give us, plotwise, a rehash of a previous film, or something with only a strained connection to the original. Not these Saw films, which all take place within a matter of weeks (days?), and keep doubling back on themselves, revealing information that sheds new light on events of the previous films.
That’s not enough to make a successful film, as the last two entries have proven, but while Saw VI continues in this fashion, it also provides the kind of forward-moving, self-contained story that the franchise has been missing since part III.
Note: there are heavy SPOILERS for events in the previous Saw films (I-V) in the graphs below; skip the rest of the review if you want to see the rest of the franchise before this one (not that I necessarily endorse doing so).
Jigsaw/John Kramer (Tobin Bell) has been dead since part III, but that hasn’t put an end to his Rube Goldberg death devices. Saw VI picks up right where Part V ended, as we learn that Agent Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) has become Jigsaw’s post-mortem accomplice, and he’s framing the deceased Agent Strahm for his actions.
Hoffman has two obstacles to overcome in the film: keeping an eye on Agent Erickson (Mark Rolston) and associates, who are investigating the murders and coming closer to identifying Jigsaw’s accomplice(s), and carrying out Jigsaw’s final(?) game.
That game involves William Easton (Peter Outerbridge), head of the insurance company that denied John Kramer’s request for financing an alternative cure for his cancer. Easton, who chose who should be covered by his policies and who shouldn’t based on a formula that identified who was likely to make his company the most money, will now have to choose who lives and dies among his friends and co-workers in a sequence of deadly Jigsaw traps.
It’s executed ham-fistedly, with all the subtlety we’ve come to expect from the Saw franchise, but Saw VI does deserve a fair amount of praise for its message: that insurance providers looking out for corporate good may not make for the best angels of mercy. There’s a delicious irony in watching the Easton character put through the Jigsaw ringer that almost – just almost – provides some fun.
On top of that, Outerbridge gives one of the best performances in the Saw franchise as the cool-headed, faux-friendly Easton. He really seems to be a OK guy, struggling with the day-to-day decisions he has to make, but he represents so much evil; Outerbridge nails the ambiguity that makes this character feel decent and wretched at the same time. And while Mandylor was always incredibly bland as the cop on the case, he fares much better in the villainous role here.
Still, Saw VI can only go so far. It works as effectively as we could expect in gruesome B-movie fashion, but we’ve seen it all before; the series had become tiresome by the fourth installment, and without all that much variety, it’s still in that funk here. The series never really went for scares, but suspense, tension, and dread are all but gone now too.
This is a lighter film, almost humorous at times, and easily the most preposterous of the series (these traps now rely on actions that simply cannot be anticipated). The dark and brooding atmosphere from the previous sequels is mostly gone here, a better development says me, but hardcore fans may be disappointed.