Saw VI (2009)
I checked out on Saw 4 and Saw 5 feeling like this horror series had grown stagnant, plus its central villain was killed off by the conclusion of the third movie. I thought the series wouldn’t go on for much longer, and oh how wrong I was. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) has a second apprentice now fulfilling his departed master’s bidding, capturing even more people and trapping them into the franchise-favorite death traps. This means that there are yet even MORE recorded messages and vast, abandoned warehouses out there. FBI Agent Hoffman (Contas Mandyor, an amazingly horrible actor) has taken up the contrived contraption mantle. Of course it’s all preposterous and overly gory, but that never stopped the series before. Saw 6 boasts the franchise’s fourth director (the editor of all the previous movies just graduated to the big leagues). But this is mainly a franchise built around the hardened desires of its fans, indoctrinated in the gospel of gore. As I said before with Saw 3: “Just like the collapse of the Final Destination franchise, these movies started big but then bottomed out when their audiences had the rules memorized. At that point the only thing left is curiosity in what fiendishly outlandish ways people will get horribly killed.” This pretty much still holds true.
The real interesting draw for the sixth entry, and the only reason I drifted back in curiosity, is because Saw 6 is the weirdest participant yet in the current health care debate. The victims in this installment are health insurance employees. The people in charge of deciding who live and who dies are now put through morally challenging, queasy challenges. It’s a lot harder to kill somebody deliberately rather than by omission, by denying coverage or finding a loophole to get out of paying for a perfectly reasonable, and much needed, procedure. There’s a macabre enjoyment in watching health insurance officials put through Jigsaw’s battery of tests, though some of his victims seem pitiable — one guy is thrown in just because he’s a smoker (I suppose Jigsaw didn’t consider giving the guy a nicotine patch first). The main character going through the funhouse of horrors is an insurance company CEO (Peter Outerbridge) who has his mathematical equation about who earns coverage put to the test. Jigsaw is exacting vengeance after the CEO denied him coverage on an experimental treatment for cancer. It’s easy to see what side of the issue Jigsaw is on; he says that insurance companies put profits over human lives and get in the way between doctors and patients. This is a Saw movie even Michael Moore could cheer. I wish at the recent health care summit on Capitol Hill that the president had said, “Gentlemen, we’ve heard what the Democrats had to say about health care, we’ve heard what the Republicans had to say. I’d now like us all to see what Saw 6 has to say on the matter.”
The story again is cut into two halves: the health insurance CEO going from death trap to death trap, and Agent Hoffman trying to stay ahead of the FBI investigation into the new Jigsaw killer. Guess which is more interesting? The FBI agents in this movie are those classical trained bumbling FBI goons that always come in late, take things over, and properly muck everything up. These people are lousy detectives and even worse at hiding their suspicions about Hoffman. It’s no surprise then that he manages to outsmart these idiots when Hoffman is, in fact, a dolt. This is not a smart man. Case in point, he’s using the severed thumb of a dead agent (Scott Patterson, apparently on Hoffman’s trail for the previous two films) to mark up bodies and frame the guy. Problem is that he’s framing a dead man, which means Hoffman has a really small window of plausible time to make this frame credible. It’s not going to work months later when the FBI wonders how a dead agent keeps kidnapping new people and putting them through hell. Then again, given the intelligence level of these onscreen agents, I’d assume that the FBI would blame zombies.
The apprentice aspect has always been the worst part of this series. I do not care whatsoever about the ins and outs of how Jigsaw set up his traps and who helped build the damn things. This isn’t some Discovery Channel series. I don’t need to watch the behind-the-scenes look at the grisly garage of doom. Just like the third Saw film, this is another entry that wants to play around with the bigger Saw picture. Scenes are introduced that retroactively alter the Saw timeline of events, causing characters to grow different motivations. I swear, the Saw movies all start to feel like they’ve been built from the rotting leftovers from each previous and less effective movie.
The only thing of note as far as acting goes is that the opening player (Tanedra Howard) won a VH1 reality show competition for a spot in this movie. Ladies and gentlemen, we now live in an age where people will compete for the luxury of being the first to cut open their insides in the SIXTH movie of a flagging horror franchise. You don’t want to know what they’re willing to do for a spot in the next flick.
The draw of this franchise are its clever yet queasy death traps where the audience can place itself in the victim’s position and wonder what they would do given the life-and-death circumstances. How far would we all go to live? Well, in Saw 6 the traps aren’t that fiendish or memorable. The best one involves a group of six insurance actuaries (experts at finding loopholes to deny and cancel coverage) tied to a carousel with a shotgun pointed at them. One by one they swing by the kill zone, making it the most proverbially deadly game of musical chairs ever. Even better is the fact that the CEO is given the opportunity to “save” two on the carousel from the shotgun blast, so they each start screaming little arguments why they are worthy and their peers are not. It’s a neat little pressure-cooker of a scene, especially when one guy on the carousel realizes he’s the last to die. The thing slowly reels back around as he uses his final seconds to demand that the CEO look at him (“You look at me when you kill me!”). That defiant little moment manages to pierce through the ponderous personal growth edict the series has foolishly heralded as its purpose. The rest of the death traps are just cruel and labored and not nearly as interesting. You ca only watch people singe their skin on hot burners so many times before the body begins to involuntarily yawn.
Saw 6 is certainly no better than the other movies but neither is it worse. It’s the topical subject matter that makes this the only Saw movie worth a dubious look after the first flick. It taps into a populist rage against insurance companies that makes it vicariously satisfying and truly bizarre. It would be questionable to say that the franchise has recaptured any sort of creative juice, but I wouldn’t mind catching a future Saw film take on other big issues plaguing our country. Imagine Saw tackling predatory lending and the negligible banking industry resisting reform tooth and nail. Wait until the heads of Goldman Sachs and AIG get a load of Jigsaw.
Nate’s Grade: C