The completion of what is threateningly being referred to as the "second trilogy" of Saw films, Saw VI is a triumph (a very relative triumph) for two reasons: first, it is not so bullshit confusing as Saw IV, and second, it is not so sleepy and wholly pointless as Saw V, and hehehe, I just implied that there are such things as Saw movies that have a point to them. Given the fact that Saw III firmly retains its iron-like grip on the title of "Most Immoral", I'd go so far as to say we've got ourselves a case of "best Saw film since Saw II" and boy oh boy, but the four minutes of my life it took to put that paragraph together ain't never going to come back.

Now, although I call it less confusing than Saw IV, it is still a confusing movie, much more so than Saw V, and of course the second trilogy is in the aggregate a great deal more confusing than the first. So this is by all means a movie with a bit too much plot on its hands, not to mention the fact that it has to deal with five movies worth of extraordinarily complex soap opera mythology, none of which ever made a whole lot of sense in the first place. But the plot is clear enough at least for a synopsis in a review: Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), the bad cop who is currently the heir-apparent to the rich tradition of serial killer John "Jigsaw" Kramer (Tobin Bell) is executing that man's final "game" - a game in this context being one of Jigsaw's incredibly convoluted death traps by which people who aren't living life to the fullest are meant to be given a new perspective and new appreciation for the sheer magic of being alive. This particular game centers upon William Erickson (Mark Rolston) William Easton, played by Peter Outerbridge (I carelessly got names mixed up, so just read "Easton" for "Erickson" throughout, the sense is the same), an insurance company executive who has the final say on whether any given person is given or denied treatment. Helping Hoffman in his machinations - or is she? - is Jigsaw's ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell), and with these three co-leads in place, Saw VI indulges in the most shameless explosion of flashbacks (yes! from three different perspectives) to various moments from the previous movies and to even earlier points in Jigsaw's life, which is how we learn that not only is Erickson a dick, he's also a dick who was very particularly a dick to a germinal serial killer. And the punishment/redemption of Erickson is to be the final note in Jigsaw's symphony of life-affirming torture.

At this point, I could regurgitate the same criticisms that more or less apply to the rest of the series, but hang on to that for a bit: let's back up to the line, "an insurance company executive". Believe it or not, and God knows I wasn't prepared to at first, Saw VI actually has it in mind to be a god-damned work of god-damned social commentary. It is, in fact, a torture porno that is equally an argument for single-payer health care reform. And, thanks to an opening scene that fits barely at all into the narrative but does an admirable job setting the tone, it is also a criticism of predatory bank lending policies. This is not something you expect when you walk into a theater showing a motion pictured titled "Saw VI". And it's not just a tossed-off gag, it's the very fabric of the whole movie. Erickson goes through a series of chambers, each one of which is designed to metaphorically point out one element of the feverishly unjust insurance industry, confronting him over and over again with the idea that he has spent his career deciding who lives or dies, in a manner of speaking.

There's certainly a precedent for horror films doubling up as social satire, and I would especially not one to speak ill of a tradition that includes the zombie films of George A. Romero. But the men who make the Saw movies (writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton have now written three of them as a team) aren't remotely that smart, and they don't even notice the gaping intellectual vacuum at the center of their argument: Saw VI advances the notion, pretty much the only one that matters, that it is a moral absolute that all people deserve equal access to health care regardless of any personal choices they have made that have an impact on their health. In other words, all human life is valuable by the nature of being human life, and fuck the insurance companies for saying otherwise. Unfortunately, this argument is being advanced in a motion picture where human life has very little value indeed; where in fact we are invited to find certain deaths less disturbing than others because the victim had no family, or was a smoker.

Indeed, Saw VI is on the whole probably the most morally objectionable film in the series since Saw III. An important truth throughout the series is that each person who dies has the opportunity to stay alive, if only they are willing to undergo some kind of grueling physical torture. It is the "point" of Hoffman that he abandons this element of Jigsaw's work for pure sadism. However, in this film - in which, we are meant to understand, everything that happens was ultimately thanks to Jigsaw's plan - seven people die who are not given even the slightest chance to redeem themselves - who, in some cases, maybe did nothing at all wrong - and we are meant to think that they're the "right" seven people, the people we would also have picked to die. And as usual, the film sets up a deeply dubious climax that makes the unfounded argument that really, all of us would like to kill everyone who's done us wrong if we got the chance. But that's just par for the course.

Directed by Kevin Greutert, the editor of all five previous Saws, the new film at least has the benefit of being poppier than Saw V, which was directed by the series' production designer. If you would expect that this means that sometimes Saw VI is a bit too hectic, you'd be right; the beloved trick of flashing quickly through things we've already seen once we learn something at the twist ending (two of them here, and both predictable) is given a mighty workout. But it's better than being dull. And cinematographer David A. Armstrong (also a veteran of the previous five films) manages to make this, arguably, the most interesting looking of them all, letting the trademark muddy greys stay but shooting the flashbacks with a crazy amount of diffusion and warm lighting that at the very least keeps the film from the visual monotony of Saw V.

About the film's gore and torture I will remain mostly silent, save to say that it is no less bloody than Saw V, and a bit bloodier than Saw IV. I will also say that the torture traps are exceptionally contrived this time, for there are many points at which the film breaks, not just if Erickson doesn't make exactly the choice that he does, but if he does not stand in precisely the correct location (there is one scene in particular, involving steam pipes, when I found myself boggled that he didn't just crouch down and move a particular lever by feel rather than sight). I won't predict whether series fans will find this one sufficiently gruesome and cool; I don't like to spend any more time in the head of a Saw fanatic than is absolutely necessary. It is now about time, I think, that it is no longer necessary.

Reviews in this series
Saw (Wan, 2004)
Saw II (Bousman, 2005)
Saw i (Bousman, 2006)
Saw IV (Bousman, 2007)
Saw V (Hackl, 2008)
Saw VI (Greutert, 2009)
Saw 3D (Greutert, 2010)
Jigsaw (Spierig Brothers, 2017)
Spiral: From the Book of Saw (Bousman, 2021)