review for Saw VI on AllMovie

Saw VI (2009)
by Jeremy Wheeler review

Topical horror doesn't come around that often -- so it's a surprise when Saw VI targets some real-life, cut-from-the-headlines villainy and goes for the jugular of crooked insurance companies and corrupt loan officers. Even more surprising is how this series somehow found its footing with this entry after waffling in complicated plot-land for far too long. This isn't to say that Pt. 6 is a fine example of the horror genre -- it still utilizes the same polarizing aesthetics that clearly separate its fervent supporters and die-hard detractors (i.e., grimy torture-filled deaths cut with an in-your-face flashy style). Yet sometimes in this all too self-serious franchise, an aura of morbid fun shines through, sometimes unintentionally (these films are not art), and sometimes planned to a perfect T. Thankfully with this one, the production team struck a good balance across the board, delivering a ridiculous concoction that manages to not be as torturous as its predecessors while providing a refreshing time at the gore store.

This isn't the first Saw movie to take place after its main villain, Jigsaw, the moral judge of the series, has kicked the bucket -- in fact, he's been dead for a few entries now. Of course, that hasn't stopped Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan -- the screenwriters since Saw IV -- from figuring out some sort of convoluted way to keep their main man a major player long after his death. This has led to some truly embarrassing soap opera-y work on their part, making the audience both love and hate the various ways they've managed to serialize the movies. For viewers stuck in the middle, the process of watching a new Saw film has turned into a ludicrous experience wherein they A) don't really have a clue what the hell happened in the previous one, and B) are barely holding on to the labyrinthine plotting playing out before them. Students of the series will no doubt be able to explain each intricacy of the bloody proceedings, but that doesn't change the fact that this franchise has inverted on itself so many times that it truly has become one of a kind. Fortunately, the elaborate maze of Jigsaw's cruel body of work gets streamlined in this sixth entry -- made even juicier by the sensational target of its morality-obsessed killer, or it should be said, killers.

That's right -- Jigsaw is rarely ever alone in his brutal "education" of those whom he considers to be the scum of society. And really -- how could he? The sheer bulk of his traps virtually demands that this sometimes-feeble cancer-ridden madman have a few helpers around to ease his load. Lucky for him, any previous cast member not torn to shreds can invariably come back in the next film as a main character that's been behind the scenes the whole time. The sixth film continues the arch of Detective Hoffman (a very pouty Costas Mandylor) and Jigsaw's wife (Betsy Russell) being the purveyors of the serial killer's legacy. This time, though, a face from Hoffman's past -- Agent Perez (Athena Karkanis), long-thought dead -- returns to put the heat on the two-faced policeman who's secretly helping to carry on the murderous intentions of the infamous deceased killer. Meanwhile, members of an insurance firm adept at denying coverage to customers with pre-existing conditions are put through the ringer, as each will eventually be schooled in what it means to truly feel alive after staring death in the face. Add in the usual traps, that silly talking clown doll, and a good dose of flashbacks to pad out the plot, and viewers have what could be the most satisfying continuation of the series in a long while.

Sometimes a touch of realism can go a long way when dealing with absurd situations. The victims in the Saw series have often reacted with the exact same sort of wide-eyed manic desperation as one another, thereby making many of the gruesome proceedings a bit dull -- not so in Saw VI. At least three times, viewers are treated to very small, but effective, reactions by its lambs for Jigsaw's slaughter. Funnily enough, these moments often give the audience either a chuckle right before some mayhem, or in one case, effectively pull viewers into the dramatics in an unsuspecting way (speaking directly of the "Look at me when you kill me" guy). Still, nothing in the film is likely to turn anyone around to the series, but there is something positive to be said about how the filmmakers play in the Saw sandbox this time around. As far as the blood goes, it flows quite freely and in enough different ways to satisfy a mainstream gorehound. Wisely, first-time director and longtime Saw editor Kevin Greutert tones down the flashy cutting to an almost-okay degree, even if it's still a questionable technique.

It'll be interesting to see if Saw VI spurs a bit of debate regarding its ideology. When Death Wish hit the screens in 1974, outcries of its supposed fascist leanings were heard throughout the media, though it's a stretch to suggest that anyone would take a Saw film as seriously as Bronson's essay on violence begetting violence. The fact that a string of horror films as screwy as Saw goes so far as to address the current financial crisis of the time is both hilarious and a dash disturbing. One thing is for sure, tying it in to the "now" makes a heck of a whole lot more sense than simply attacking the junkies and morally twisted individuals who have inhabited much of the series up till this point. Who's next on Jigsaw's list? Wall Street investors? Only Saw VII will tell.