At this point in time, I think I’ve written quite enough about how and why the Saw series is unjustly despised by the horror community. For today, let’s just say that the films are like Doritos. Every so often--in Saw’s case, once a year--a new flavor comes along that nobody was really asking for. Chipotle Ranch in chip form and Costas Mandylor in a starring role don’t sound appealing or seem necessary, but once you dig in, you’re thoroughly satisfied. Plus, much in the way a Habanero can only work in a Collision bag with Guacamole, Saw III can really only be enjoyed followed by Saw II, and so on. Sure, each serving isn’t necessarily good for you but that's never stopped me from ordering pizza and eating it for breakfast.
So like a bag of Cool Ranch, I ended my Super Awesome Halloween Weekend with a Sunday night viewing of America’s second favorite horror film. What follows will be a mildly SPOILERed review, sort of like milk one day past its expiration date. Okay for lightening up your coffee, but a full glass may just ruin everything.
Apparently, my stomach is writing this review.
Quick Plot: Scream Queen royalty Tanedra Howard and an actor I don't recognize that played Walt in The Brady Bunch In the Whitehouse (whoah: huge tangent. Mike Brady was elected President in 2002? This is incredible beyond words) scream a whole lot in the opening scene, mostly because they’re morally mean loan officers who now have to cut off some of their flesh to prove some sort of point. It’s predictably loud, ugly, and lovably ridiculous in establishing just how to sever your own arm in 45 seconds.
A lot more stuff happens in Saw VI, and it seems nearly impossible to merely summarize in any linear fashion. Instead, let me break it up by storyline and character:
-Mandylor's Detective Hoffman continues his reign of tanned terror, capturing a few beaurocratic baddies while trying to maintain an aura of snarling cool around two of the stupidest police detectives to ever survive more than one horror movie.
-Obligatory flashbacks give Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith a paycheck. We learn the contents of Amanda’s envelope opened at the end of Saw III and yet another minor character connection is established. Tobin Bell gets to model a variety of looks, including one where he wears a fuzzy albino caterpillar in a vertical fashion down his chin
-The president of a private health care provider takes on the token guinea pig role, this time being kidnapped and forced to undergo multiple 'tests' that challenge his cold and greedy ways in the eyes of the human beings he so often reduced to dollar signs and paperwork
-A sensationalist journalist gunning for Gale Weathers’ job is trapped in a cage across from a mother and teenage son. Their only hints at their fate are two tubs of hydrofluoric acid and a switch marked Live or Die
-Jill, Jigsaw’s ex-wife, continues to wear an oddly half smile/half sneer while helping heroin addicts and appearing mysterious
Somehow, everything kinda sorta comes together in time for a montage, musical crescendo, and the words “game over.”
I’ve suspended any shame in admitting that I genuinely enjoy these films. Like the latter Friday the 13ths, Saw has lost any real scare value (if it arguably ever had any) in favor of over-the-top murders, but unlike any franchise I can think of, it continues to play with its growing roster of chracter actors and increasingly complex story. Some of the twists are genuinely surprising and even the more obvious (gee, I wonder what could possibly be in Envelope #6?) have carefully executed payoffs.
The most noticeable aspect of Saw VI is its social commentary on the unsolvable rat maze that is the health care system in the U.S. Does it work? Yes and no. Screenwriters Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton have less subtletly than Michael Moore, but it’s an admirable effort to say something with a film that has absolutely no need to do so. I’m reminded of an acquaintance's baffled reaction when I explained the plot of Saw VI.
“Wow. I just assumed it was a stupid horror movie.”
He is, of course, not incorrect. Saw VI doesn’t break any filmmaking molds and lacks a lot in terms of tone and performance. At the same time, it continues to develop a complex story, tosses in some macabre humor, and offers some good intentions towards making a political point about an issue on many a ticket buyer’s mind. I can’t ask for that much more from the sixth entry of a franchise that keeps me entertained.
The carousel contraption is one of the more interesting traps. The moral nastiness of its rules works well, much like some of the fan-favorite tests in Saw III
Tobin Bell continues to be a true find as Jigsaw, especially as his voice grows to dangerously unchartered levels of graveliness
Once we get past the turn-it-to-eleven opening scene, the fast cut edit so grating in the past few films feels a little dialed down here, letting the horror of some of the traps speak for themselves, rather than screaming in your face and ramming your head against your theater seat
I wasn’t a fan of the plot heavy, ill-defined character stuffed Saw V but I gave it a pass with the hopes that it was done primarily to set up a killer sixth installment. If “set up” translates to “introduce mysterious box to be opened one film later,” I suppose it worked
As someone who spent a few weeks last year laughing at the terribly rushed acting school and hokey set design in VH1’s Scream Queens, it’s impossible not to comment on Howard’s performance. It’s passable, although fairly one note. The hardest part is watching it and not wishing upon a star that Jessica Palette took the crown. Girl was insane in the membrane, and picturing her eagerness in the all-too-angry role is enough to make a gal look up wacky clips of the 5th runner up on youtube:
Lessons Learned (From the Incredibly Obvious Edition)
Never let a man suspected of serial killing hold a steaming pot of coffee in your vicinity, particularly if you’re planning on confronting him about his possible guilt
When cutting off one’s limb, a butcher knife is a far more efficient a tool than a slim kitchen dagger
The privatization of American health care has led to EVIL
Bringing your five year old into a showing of Saw VI is probably not the best idea you’ve ever had as a parent
“When you’re killing me, you look at me!”
I’ll add this to “You can’t fire me, I quit!” as a phrase I’d like to use before I die. Hear that, heart disease/car accident/zombie/potential murderer? We will be making serious eye contact when the time comes.
Lingering Questions (Highly Toxic Spoilers)
-Where is Jeff and Lynn’s daughter, first introduced and last seen in Saw III, where it was implied that she was kidnapped by the Jigsaw Jets. This theory was further supported in IV, when Hoffman was seen with a stuffed animal, explaining it away as being “complicated.” I’ll say
-What was Hoffman’s actual test? Was it winnable in any way as a method of demonstrating to the bloodthirsty bad cop what it’s like to be brutalized?
-One of my biggest issues with Saw V was the ambiguity of Julie Benz’s surviving character. The film seemed to suggest that she too was in on the Jigsaw game, simply because she’s able to trick the pyromaniac into donating his whole body for the blood that ultimately sets her free. I assumed we’d learn more about her identity but alas, Benz seems to be busy filming Dexter and every other film put out by Lions Gate
If you haven’t seen Parts III, IV, or V, Saw VI will probably confuse the bear trap right off your little noggin. Still, it’s one of the best entries in the series and may prove to those who unjustly pan it that it’s a franchise of some merit. I would say it's a closest match in tone ton Saw III, with the added Sicko-ish slant for the politically inclined. It won't crash the Oscars or even Bravo's Even More Scarier Movie Moments That We Forgot the Last Three Times Around, but it's a good time for those still invested in the story or the curious without a jaded sense of hatred for anything a studio dares to put out.