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Movie Review: Saw VI

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Last year they updated the series tag line from "There will be blood" to "If it's Halloween, it must be Saw." They continue the use of the new line this year and after six years the franchise is turning into an institution. Part seven has already been announced (in 3D, no less) and I believe part eight is part of that deal. One has to wonder when the minds behind this long-running series will begin to run out of ideas. I thought it was already beginning to happen, but this new entry has renewed my interest somewhat. I think the problem now is running out of characters. The next film will likely bring a new infusion of blood. Could Saw VI lead to a reinvention of the franchise? Too soon to tell. Let us just stick to what we actually have before speculating further on the future.

I sort of liked last year's Saw outing. It was not quite as bloody as the series has been, but I appreciated the fact they cut back on the over-plotting. If there is one thing I don't like about this series is the way everything has to have a meaning, how everything is tied into everything else, and how the films feel about to collapse under the weight of the plot. Not to mention how the characters never really develop into anything of interest.

Saw VI picks up shortly after the end of Saw V (of course). Agent Strahm has just met his demise having failed his test. Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) has escaped and is preparing his next game as Jigsaw's replacement, plus continuing the cleanup of loose ends.

The formula for this series is pretty much set in stone. We always get a one-off trap to open the film with characters we don't really care about. This is all about getting off on the right foot, a little blood to satisfy the crowd right off the bat. From there we are reintroduced to whatever characters are left from the prior film. We finally move into the primary, multi-person trap that will be the focus for the bulk of the run time. This is, of course, accompanied by the story of those investigating the Jigsaw case and whatever lengths our games master must go to to keep his identity a secret and the game running as scheduled.

As far as this film fits into the Saw canon, we get payoff on the relationship between Hoffman and Amanda. We also learn of the secrets of Amanda's letter. We also learn about the box that the deceased John Kramer (Tobin Bell) left for Jill. There is a lot going on with these characters and it is interesting to see how they make everything fit together, roughly or not.

I have criticized the Saw franchise for the way the writers try to force every little thing to fit into some perceived grand vision. The thing is, I think what they are trying to do is to be commended. How many other long running franchises have attempted to have as much of a continuing story as Saw? Sure, others will carry elements throughout their run, but I cannot think of any whose tales have been quite as intertwined as those of Saw.

While the big picture is to be commended, it is not the entire story. If all each film did was further the big picture I doubt it would have lasted this long. Granted, this is not a series to jump right in the middle of, but that aside, each film has its own internal tale to tell. In the case of Saw VI, I think it has one of the better stories to tell, helping make it one of the better sequels.

For the first time a Saw film has integrated some real world issues into its bloody mix of gore-drenched traps. You see, when John Kramer (aka Jigsaw) was still alive and fighting his cancer, he found a treatment that could have saved his life. Do you see where this is going? Can you tell what real world issue is front and center? That's right, health care and insurance. Kramer's denial of service sets up this film's primary trap. In a way, you could probably argue that this is in favor of public health care and twist the movie into Obama propaganda. I am not going to get into that, but it could prove an interesting route to examine upon future viewings

In any case, this real world issue and the way the trap is set combined with the people involved made this film all the more interesting. Now, take the real world thoughts of slimy insurance bean counters, the desire of all for health care, and mix in an elaborate series of blood-letting traps and you have a solid mixture for an entertaining film.

I will not detail the traps here, but rest assured, they are nasty and contribute to a film that is decidedly bloodier than part five. A few of them made even me do a little cringe/chuckle combination. However, coming on the heels of the Korean gorefest The Butcher, this feels a little tame.

We all know that stories do not tell themselves, they need actors to tell them. Acting in this series will never be considered great. In fact, the performances, aside from the quietly charismatic Tobin Bell, generally feel rather lifeless. The film could have been pushed over the top if the characters had more life to them. In particular our central bad guy Hoffman, played by Costas Mandylor, has one expression the entire film — half dead.

Saw VI was directed by Kevin Geutert, stepping out from behind the editing console where he spent the first five films. He clearly has learned from those who came before him. He brought together the better elements of pacing, blood, and story in an entertaining fashion. I would gladly welcome him back for the next trip.

Bottom line. Saw will never be my favorite horror franchise. You have to admire the thought that goes into designing the traps and their willingness to kill their characters. This film proves that there is still some life in the franchise. Here is a good question, who is left? You will understand when you see the movie. Also, was the last trap meant to be a one-way trip?

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