Saw VI's gory beginning features a pair of contestants with contraptions on their heads, hacking away at their flesh to save their own lives. From that moment, this installment of the episodic franchise takes off where the previous chapters left off, and doesn't let up. It's an impressive entry for a series that constructs its own chronology as it goes, even if the gig may be running thin after half a decade of ongoing horror.The interwoven subplots in VI that connect the dots to Saws I-V are done in exceptional form. Please note these aren't sequels: these are episodes. You seriously cannot see any of them without seeing all of them and therein lays the genius of Saw. Though Saw IV and V seemed like missteps for the series, they clearly laid the groundwork for Saw VI, which feels more back on track with the intricate mind games that began with Saw III.
Saw VI delivers on all levels except for the blatantly obvious "6th" victim. All other twists and turns are brilliantly hidden until the end. Orchestrated by Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) from beyond the grave, the tests of morality and fairness through extreme torture and sadism continue non-stop. It's easy to identify with the victims. However, the audience also knows about their sins, making us complicit in their suffering.
Cleverly tackling contemporary political issues, the main victim/protagonist is a health insurance agent, William (Peter Outerbridge), whose job is to approve or deny medical claims. Through a miniscule loophole, he denied Jigsaw's application for a cutting-edge cancer treatment and threatened to cancel the policy if he paid for it independently, essentially sealing Jigsaw's fate. William pays the price by having to choose who lives or dies, sacrificing people to save his own life. There's also a timely segment in which mortgage brokers who convinced people to sign up for mortgages they couldn't afford are forced to extract a pound of their own flesh. Maybe Bernie Madoff got off easy.
First-time director Kevin Greutert, who edited the first five installments, keeps the story clear, the suspense taut and the gore supremely bloody. Keeping editing as an essential ingredient, Greutert continues the excessively frenetic style. Writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton remind the audience of past events and spin them in absorbing new directions.
Bell is mesmerizing once again as the enigmatic Jigsaw. Reprising roles via flashbacks, most characters have ample screen time. As Jigsaw's victim-turned-weirdly subdued doormat/vindicator, Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) has significantly less screen time, which some might consider a good thing. Jigsaw's wife, Jill (Besty Russell), doesn't do much more than prepare for a larger part in the next installment. Yes, there will be a Saw VII and yes, I will be there.
Although Saw VI offers redemption for the series and the potential for a power struggle over Jigsaw's legacy, there are signs that the franchise could be loosing traction. The novelty is wearing thin, as proven by Paranormal Activity kicking Saw's box-office butt last weekend. Jigsaw's message is getting somewhat muddled, considering we have four potential villains all existing between present day and flashbacks. Too many blood-splattered cooks may spoil the broth... or is that just what they want us to believe? In Saw's never-ending torture porn chess game, maybe we, the audience, will be the last victim.
Saw VI ★★★1/2✩
Directed by Kevin Greutert.
Starring Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Shawnee Smith, Peter Outerbridge Betsy Russell