Six films in and the Saw franchise is still going strong. Or, it is when it comes to making money. The films are made cheaply and are almost guaranteed to make back 10x their budget, giving the studio a very impressive profit. I can’t blame anyone involved for continuing to make Saw sequels, and I can only hope that the money made by them goes to fund projects that the filmmakers are actually passionate about, instead of the passionless drivel that the series has now become.
I say this, and yet I also feel like Saw VI is the best film in the series since the third one. That isn’t to say it’s especially good, but at least it moved at a good clip, has some interesting puzzles, and had new scenes featuring two of the only strong characters in the film — Amanda (Shawnee Smith) and Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), if you’ve forgotten. If only it didn’t ruin and contradict Jigsaw’s motivation from previous films. How do you miss the point of your own series, especially once you’re on the sixth entry and the producers overseeing the project have been the same for each chapter?
The main story this time around involves an insurance executive, William Easton (Peter Outerbridge), being put through one of Jigsaw’s “games,” which you’ll recall involve making sacrifices of the mind and body in an attempt to rehabilitate a victim who has been living life wrong, according to Jigsaw. These are often very bloody, and in the last couple of films have felt like they existed just to torture their victims. That’s less the case this time; I can see the logic behind each one of them.
The parallel story, because there must be a parallel story (or several), has now-Lieutenant Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) attempting to outsmart his fellow officers of the law by trying to frame now-dead Agent Strahm as the apprentice to the Jigsaw Killer. Of course, Hoffman is now the one carrying out the murders single-handedly — we’ve seen this for two films now — so there’s no debating on our end whether or not he’s the villain. He just has to try to hide that fact from everyone else.
Now, we’ve known for a while that the victims of the Jigsaw games have been targeted. At the beginning of each puzzle, a tape plays that tells the victim why he or she has been chosen, and what the rules of the game are. That reason is generally because the person has either not been living life to the fullest, or because they’ve been the direct cause of many other people. This time around, it feels more like personal revenge, which to me seems to contradict Jigsaw’s general philosophy.
That, if nothing else, is the main reason I didn’t like Saw VI as much as I could have. The life lessons of the previous films have at least kept the series having a consistent theme. That isn’t here. Instead, I couldn’t get it out of my mind how the character of Jigsaw was completely butchered. This doesn’t seem like something he would do, or at least, not for this reason. Mr. Easton makes a good target, being someone who continually denies people of insurance coverage and directly causes many deaths, but because of some flashbacks, we know that it’s more personal than that.
There are some interesting puzzles and traps this time around. Some of them are physically demanding, while others require William to question his own policies and decisions he’s made in the past. You can actually see how, in this film, the trials that he’s going to be put through might actually change his outlook on life. In the last couple of films, they have been brutal for the sake of brutality and sadism.
I think part of the reason I liked this film more than IV and V was because it brought back my favorite character, Amanda, for a couple of new flashbacks. Isn’t it always kind of fun when a previously dead character, one who had more potential and personality than anyone else in the series, to get a few more scenes, even if they’re just flashbacks? The series hasn’t yet resurrected any of its characters, and while Tobin Bell has continually been filming new scenes for additional back story, he was really the only one.
Saw VI also had Costas Mandylor coming into his own as the villain. It seemed as if in V the franchise was trying to begin distancing itself from Jigsaw, and hoping to establish Hoffman as the new bad guy. It tried but failed. This is a more successful attempt. I began to see him as a threat, especially during some of his creepy scenes when interacting with the police. He’s not Jigsaw, but he’s getting there, I suppose, even though the character has a whole is far less interesting.
I’m not sure if I’d call Saw VI “good,” but it’s definitely “better” than the last two installments in the yearly franchise, and if you’ve sat through the previous five films, you’ll definitely want to see this one. It has a good pace, creative and interesting puzzles, ties up some loose ends, and has new scenes with Amanda, so that might make you happy. The main problem I have with it is the way it contradicts the character of Jigsaw, which has been established over the course of five previous films. Still, this is definitely a better Saw movie than the last couple of them.