Saw VI: This Time It’s Political

At this point, we must concede that the Jigsaw Killer, Jonathan Kramer, must certainly have spent more of his life setting up his murderous little games than any other activity. And that the amounts of money involved to play them are staggering.

Which makes one wonder if he might have done something more productive with his time and money.

Anyway, we have here the sixth entry in the notorious movie franchise.

And while I defend these movies as not being torture porn, I have to admit, when this one started I thought, “Well, that’s a bit much.”


Now, Saw suffers from the the same problem every successful horror movie does: The demand for sequels far exceeds the planning of the people who wrote the original. Sort of queerly in the case of the Saw series—which uniquely (I think) has had one release every year for six years—each entry has to do some retconning. I say “queer” because I think movies 2-5 were a done deal after the first one, and #7 seems to be guaranteed. In other words, you could do some planning.

And, in fairness, the Saws’ retconning has been rather mild up till this movie.

In case you’re not familiar with the premise, John Kramer is an engineer who entraps people he feels are wasting their lives by constructing elaborate and horrific traps they must escape, in an attempt to give them a new appreciation for life. (Oh, and he’s been dead for half the series, and lives only through the elaborate plans he set up in advance.)

Well, that’s the original premise. Jigsaw’s mission has drifted away from that pure idea to where he’s been trying to teach forgiveness, cooperation, anger management, and so on.

The other drift that has occurred is that the original motivation for Jigsaw was anger over his own life. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and so felt it unfair that others didn’t appreciate what they had—what had been taken from him.

Now, to me, the thing that sets the series apart from the typical slashers (besides the generally above par suspense and plotting), is empathy. The characterizations in most slashers are weak: They’re just fodder. Their personalities are largely irrelevant.

In this series, the victims’ personalities are the killer’s prime motivation. (And not stupid things like having premarital sex and smoking pot.) Infidelity, violence, depression, selfishness and so on, are the flaws that Jigsaw tries to correct with his unique brand of therapy.

In the third installment, for example, the morose father gets the option of killing or saving the people he holds responsible for the death of his child and the subsequent injustices. To add injury to insult, he can only save them by enduring considerable duress. It’s a sort of high drama, compressed into a very determinate, short time period.

This is a huge part (in my mind) as to why the movies work, when they do work.

Saw VI has the unfortunate added burden of a political message. And this message completely struggles against the established precedent of the previous movies.

You see, in Saw VI, John Kramer targets insurance company employees!

Even if you accept the premise (which cheerfully skips around the general success of the insurance industry by noting offhand the millions of people insurance works for) that these guys (and everyone who works for them) are pure evil, the movie undermines itself and the entire series in two big ways.

First of all, there’s a scene where John goes to Insurance Guy because he’s found an exotic treatment for his cancer. Naturally, he’s refused, and on top of that threatened with having his coverage dropped if he goes and does it himself.

Well, on the one hand, how would they know? But more importantly, we know John has tons of money. In fact, they even point that out, by saying the treatment he’s getting now could wipe him out financially, to which he says “Money is not the issue.”

Y’see, it’s a matter of principle. So the guy who’s gone around for five movies putting people in horrendous situations to gauge their love of life doesn’t bother to take a mild risk to save his own life? Really?

Second of all, there is a “test” in this movie completely different from every other in the series’ history: An innocent character is given the chance to kill someone.

In every previous case where someone playing a game has had the opportunity to kill, doing so meant their own death. (Y’see, Jigsaw teaches tolerance and forgiveness with all his hacksaws and barbed wires.) But in this movie, it’s fairly clear that killing is just peachy! One presumes that not-killing would be okay, too, but it’s not entirely clear.

Worst of all, this otherwise well plotted movie struggles because you’re obviously meant to hate the insurance exec, but the formula requires us to empathize with the victims at some level. As a result, the exec comes off very human and really, very decent. (His employees, to a man, are completely one dimensional monsters, which is rather weak, too.) Actor Peter Outerbridge, while capable of seeming like an unctuous sleaze, is a little too deep and human to make us feel like he deserves his torture.

So, the whole thing ends up ass-over-tea cart.

There was much swearing from The Boy who liked the movie except for the weird imposition of politics onto it.

And it’s a shame, because it’s otherwise the strongest entry since #3. Good pacing, good characterization (with the noted exceptions), clever and interesting “games"—notably bad lighting, however, and maybe a slightly cheaper feel over all.

Costas Mandylor (of the perpetual trout pout) is back in this movie, doing Jigsaw’s dirty work, with an especially brutal flair, and providing one of the movie’s two big twists (setting up the sequel).

Shawnee Smith (who died several movies back) re-appears in flashbacks, as of course does the Jigsaw himself, Tobin Bell. Weirdly, Athena Karkaris, who took a face full of death a movie or two ago ends up having gotten better, though not for any reason I can figure out. (The series’ tendency to kill everyone makes it hard to establish much continuity, so they keep resurrecting minor characters.)

Happily, the wonderful Betsy Russell is back. Though it seems to me her character has drifted over the movies, again I think due to the fact that not many characters survive from one film to the next. She seemed to be pretty appalled by her ex-husband’s behavior when we first met her, but gradually seems to have warmed to the whole serial murder thing.

I’m not sure if this soured us to the next one. This one we waited till it was only $3/ticket. I’m guessing the next one won’t have any political agenda, however.

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