.I have no shame in saying that I've fully embraced the Saw series despite what was originally a low budget wonder being corporately ballooned into an annual Halloween cash register for Lionsgate. Well, or at least that's what the studio thought before this installment's rather dramatic drop in box office performance compared to previous trips to the flesh-rippin' well. An even more cheaply made indie (by a vast margin), Paranormal Activity, laid ol' rickety Jigsaw out for the '09 spooky movie season's dollar. Not to mention this sequel's absolutely piss poor trailers that might as well just said "fuck it" and then flashed the title and release date. That's a shame really, because Saw VI is the best sequel in the franchise since the underrated once-trilogy-ender Saw III. Though it's perhaps even more shameful that it took the series two limp-dick sequels to climb upon the more solid ground witnessed here.
You gotta wonder what got into the water of writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton this time around after also scribing the purely wheel-spinnin' fourth and fifth sequels. It's akin to getting to a section of an otherwise boring novel that seems to immediately spark up as if the author was just filling pages while looking forward to writing that exciting portion. You get the feeling Dunstan and Melton wrote their three sequels with getting to IV in mind all along. At the same time, IV has the most connective tissue in flashback to III as we see Jigsaw, Amanda, and the then "heavy-lifter" Hoffman setting up some of the particulars behind Jeff's game. Hoffman has a bit of blackmailing on his mind involving Amanda and John's main squeeze.
One constant complaint from Saw haters is the disposability of characters that inhabit its grimy, insular, and logistically impossible world. Before you know it, characters both minor and seemingly major get gorily knocked off left-and-right. That doesn't change much with Saw the Sixth, but we do finally get some meat on Costas Mandylor's Hoffman. I never cared for Mandylor as the man continuing Jigsaw's legacy. Though the character is shored up with the added pressure of his fellow investigators getting closer to his true identity as they run into inconsistencies with the dead Agent Strahm being pegged as the new killer. Betsy Russell is back as Jill Tuck and comes into conflict with Hoffman over the contents of the mysterious box left for her by John. This is Mandylor's best performance so far in the four Saws to his credit and that empty feeling left by Tobin Bell's Jigsaw is the least lingering in this latest entry.
It also helps that we get more Bell here than in the prior two sequels. The veteran character actor's cameos in IV and V usually felt trite; however, Bell's scenes in VI provide him with what he's fantastic at--monologue. When Bell as either John or Jigsaw clicks, he easily stands with other greats of the genre, and his character's "forced" absence after III (but what could ya do?) is one of the worst moves in the past decade's worth of mainstream horror. Shawnee Smith reprises Amanda in snippets taking place mostly from III as we see additional motivation behind her ultimate choice at that sequel's climax. Watch for an after end credits tidbit involving Amanda that might speak to something we'll see explored in this year's upcoming sequel. The presence of Bell and Amanda only further solidifies their place as the best thing the series had going and it would have probably been best to let Saw conclude as a trilogy.
This time around, the thrust behind the game is the dickish health insurance agency that denied John pursuit of an experimental gene therapy that might have saved his life. You guessed it, the head of the company (television vet Peter Outerbridge) ends up in a rusty trap run having to decide between the very lives of his employees. This provides some underlying commentary, albeit hackneyed (this is a Saw flick after all), on the timely American healthcare scheme. At the same time, this direct connection to the "living" John adds greater weight to the purpose behind the traps (think Dr. Gordon a la the first Saw) instead of random strangers facing the true measure of their animalistic desire for life.
This is definitely an improvement over the last two years and a few steps in the right direction for everyone's favorite torture porn soap. With adjustments, this should have been the fourth film. I can remember some saying they were disappointed that VI didn't actually "end" the story, it does, the arc that began in 2004 is cleverly closed here. No spoilers, but the survivors will be going rogue in VII and this could potentially breathe entirely fresh life into the franchise. The next film could be radically different from Saw norms if its creators wished...that is if the gimmicky 3D thing doesn't get in the way.