Saw VI (2009)
By: Julian on November 1, 2009  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Poster Art
Director: Kevin Greutert
Starring: Costas Mandylor, Peter Outerbridge, Betsy Russell, Tobin Bell, Samantha Lemole
Writer: Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton
Country: USA
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The Saw series has been the very exemplification of the Law of Diminishing Returns: from the 5-star, 2004 original, to David Hackl's 1-star 2008 fifth instalment. I reviewed the last two for Digital Retribution on cinema outings which begged the question: why did I return? Call it the closest thing to a yearly event movie, or my inner sadist, but I'm happy to say I've very pleased to have done so: Saw VI is a renewed hurrah for the series.

For those who haven't seen the previous Saw films, I don't recommend reading on: the movies shouldn't be seen out of order, so spoilers for the earlier flicks will follow from here.

Saw V's antagonist was Lieutenant Hoffman (Melburnian Costas Mandylor) and, in the final frames of that film, Hoffman crushes Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) in a contraption above the protective coffin he encased himself in, enabling him to continue Jigsaw's retributive work (the old if-you-don't-help-yourself-I'll-make-you-hurt-yourself adage, for the uninitiated who ignored my earlier disclaimer). Saw VI's opening trap has two predatory lenders separated in a room, with a device attached to their heads that, after 60 seconds, screws into their heads. In order to emerge as victor, one of the hapless duo has to cut off enough flesh from their bodies to tip a set of scales in the middle of the room in their favour, deactivating the device. It's a nice prelude to what is the best Saw film since Saw III, even though it sounds a little like Saw VI: Jigsaw Takes Global Financial Crisis.

The protagonist of Saw VI's central game is William Eaton (Peter Outerbridge), an executive at a health insurance agency whose job it is to run the numbers of potential customers through a formula in order to determine whether or not they are eligible for coverage – the nature of his job involves turning back, among many others, a husband and father dying of cancer, preventing him from getting a new, experimental treatment in Europe. Hoffman's trap features a number of levels, some testing Eaton's physical endurance, others gauging his emotional strength.

If you can loosely describe the Saw franchise thus far as two trilogies, then Saw VI is quite an exceptional conclusion to an equally remarkably lacklustre second, and nicely introduces a third (there's no two ways about it: whether it becomes a trilogy remains to be seen, but Saw VII has already been green lit). That said, while this was a vast improvement on Bousman's Saw IV and Hackl's Saw V, it's worth remembering that VI, the debut feature of Kevin Greutert, who edited the first five films, is the fifth heating of a concept that was wildly original and utterly galvanising almost six years ago, but is now sorta trite, no matter how well it's dished out.

With that said, that I liked this movie as much as I did is probably a testament to how good a job Greutert does. At times, Saw VI is a pretty upsetting movie, more so than any of the earlier ones, in its basic reliance on not so much the gore or queasiness, but more the emotional torture. By the lead actor's own admission in an Australian breakfast show I watched a couple of weeks ago, he found it nigh on unbearable to watch. It's more explicit violence is also as prodigious as a gore-hound could want: some of the traps really outdo the earlier instalments of the franchise in their sheer, flinch-inducing quality. Mainstay cinematographer David Armstrong does some pretty flashy stuff, particularly with steam room and the carousel, and returning screenwriters Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton are working at their most devilishly inventive too – the trap involving a barrel-load of hydrofluoric acid was just mean-spirited. Dunstan and Melton also do a significantly better job and the film is lean and played straight, eliminating the convoluted flourishes the screenwriting duo so frequently and misguidedly indulged in for the previous two movies. But, hilariously, IMDb's trivia page tells of a subplot Saw VI wanted to leap in to, but was canned preliminarily: Hoffman versus the Mob!

The acting is well done all around, and Costas Mandylor does a great job as the villain (there's a scene towards the end of the film he particularly shines in, as he ties up a potential game-ender). In a bit of marketing I was very sceptical about in my Saw V review, VH1 launched a 10-episode reality television show Scream Queens, where the winner gets the ignoble honour of being a victim in one of Jigsaw's traps in Saw VI. It was a graphic attempt at milking the cash cow of its final drop and the victorious contestant was Tanedra Howard, who got to lop off her arm and come out on top in the opening trap. It really makes you sceptical as to the motives of producers – I think there can be little doubt that the Saw franchise has just become about the dollars, and Lionsgate now has ten of mine. Embarassingly, they can be assured of another ten this time next year, but it looks like my contribution will make little difference in their ocean of profits: it's the lowest grossing of the films so far, but at time of writing it has already doubled its $11 million budget.

By the time you get to the sixth instalment of a film franchise, it's unlikely that the creative well is going to be overflowing. Saw VI doesn't provide anything new but it refines some good ideas, provides a nice conclusion to the second Saw trilogy and gives us some pretty awesome traps. I was, despite some strong initial reservations, impressed.
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