Kevin Greutert | 92 mins | Blu-ray | 18 / R
The Saw franchise dragged itself to a seventh (and final? The advertising said so; no one cares enough to spoil it any more so I’ve no idea if it genuinely was) instalment this past Halloween, but here I am playing catch-up with the sixth — you know, the one that got soundly trounced by Paranormal Activity in cinemas.
It doesn’t start well. The opening sequence is awful, sinking to torture porn levels again (something I feel the Saw series mostly manages to rise above, if only slightly) in one of the worst examples I’ve personally seen. It’s unquestionably gratuitous, the only people who could possibly take an interest in it being those who want to see characters quite literally tortured — in this case, by hacking off bits of their own bodies. Some of the traps in Saw are clever or intriguing, even when they’re gruesome, but this is just the second murder from Se7en reenacted in an overlong fashion with prosthetics and too many gory close-ups. It’s uncomfortable to watch — not because it’s scary, but because it’s scary that anyone might find this kind of sequence enjoyable.
And then, almost suddenly, it gets good. It’s probably the best Saw movie since the first.
OK, it’s far from flawless. It’s still tangled up in the over-complex ongoing story, and peppered with flashbacks, varying from flash frames to large chunks, to try to help you follow it. On the one hand that’s lazy storytelling; on the other, much welcomed — the plot would surely be impossible to navigate without it.
But, as with all later Saw films, this is all a sideshow to the main attraction: the standalone ‘Game of the Film’, the Saw equivalent of ‘Monster of the Week’. Saw VI takes on a political dimension by tackling the thorny issue of American health insurance. It hardly presents a well-considered and in-depth debate, true, but the “evils of the insurance business” angle is a welcome motivation and adds something to both the plot and the denouement. The latter has the best twist a Saw movie has had for a while (following the non-twist of the fifth’s ending, a muddled one in the fourth, and a distinctly mixed effort in the third). It actually caught me unawares, so that’s some successful misdirection they pulled off right there.
Following it, there’s a nicely edited closing montage. Not particularly relevant — in other entries it’s used to expose the twist, here the twist is pretty self explanatory — but it’s oddly, briefly, rewarding for those of us who’ve sat through all the films so far (and, to be frank, if you haven’t sat through the others, you’d be mad to jump on at this point). Plus there’s an intriguing post-credits scene. No idea what it means or signifies, but it’s clearly laying the groundwork for something in the future.
Aside from that foul opener, the traps and games show a level of innovation and forethought the other films have sometimes lacked. In fairness, the game-of-the-film and its traps are often the best bit of any Saw film, and though some of these could be better sold — the moderately infamous shotgun carousel would be improved if we had a vested interest in the six competitors (though that would mean boosting the running time by having to introduce them all, so maybe it is better this way) — they are all amongst the series’ most engaging.
It wouldn’t do to not mention some of the other flaws — it’s far from perfect, of course. The plot is riddled with holes and improbabilities (even aside obvious ones about the construction of the traps and kidnapping of victims), while the acting is hardly top-drawer — there aren’t even guest stars big enough to rival Saw V’s “Luke from Gilmore Girls”, “Darla from Buffy / Dexter’s girlfriend” or “Chloe’s boyfriend from 24” — but then you don’t expect watertight plotting or RSC acting from a Saw film.
Note: this is an Extended or Extreme or Whatever Edition again. Minor differences only, I believe, which you can find listed here.
Fortunately this franchise entry doesn’t live or die by its relation to the ongoing plot arc or its final twist. But combine that solid surprise with the plot’s ripped-from-the-headlines basis and it earns a third star. At the risk of damning with faint praise, this is largely the best Saw since the first.