Saw movies and Halloween go together like ho and hum. That’s not to say that there’s nothing to be said in favor of Saw VI. It’s a good deal better than Saw IV (2007) and Saw V (2008), and while that’s not exactly what you’d call high praise, it’s something. Moreover, this entry appears to have something on its mind—or at least a sense of the topical, with its attack on the insurance industry. Unfortunately, none of this keeps Saw VI from being a Saw movie. In other words, a bunch of folks are going to be subjected to various complicated torture devices and—for the most part—expire in sundry gooey manners. At bottom, that’s pretty much it.
Promoting Kevin Greutert—who edited all the other films in the series—to director seems to have neither hurt nor appreciably helped matters. A case could be made, perhaps, that he gave himself more coherent footage to hook together and that that accounts for the film’s attempts at suspense working better than usual. Or that may simply be due to the screenplay, which is the most notable thing about the film—surprising, since it was written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, the guys responsible for the last two scripts. What’s that saying about monkeys with typewriters being able to write Hamlet given enough time? OK, so this isn’t Hamlet, but it’s still an improvement.
The major point of interest lies in the film’s choice of insurance-company honcho William Easton (TV actor Peter Outerbridge) as the focus of the late Jigsaw’s (Tobin Bell) interest. Of course, since Jigsaw pegged out a film or two ago, all this is from beyond the grave and being carried out by his successors—primarily corrupt detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor, looking more than ever like he’s wearing pink lip gloss) and Mr. Jigsaw’s widow (Betsy Russell). Worry not, though, Jigsaw is still all over the place thanks to the magic of flashbacks and recycled footage.
The flashbacks, in fact, are what explain William’s fate, since it turns out that not only did he personally deny Jigsaw’s claims for an experimental cancer treatment—one of his many crimes—but he’d already appalled Jigsaw with his casual God-like ability to decide who lives or dies through the power of the insurance company as dictated by its profit margin. The man is essentially a one-person death panel, which is what gives the film its topical nature.
This aspect of the movie also adds to its suspense value, because the gauntlet that William has to run involves him making life-or-death choices regarding his associates. This works best in its first—simplest—situation, since the film has built some minor sympathy for his secretary. Subsequent tests are less effective. For example, the elaborate whirligig business with six potential victims is the least suspenseful, since none of the six evidence the slightest merit for mercy. The biggest problem is that all this is interesting without really going much of anywhere. The blistering satire of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) or Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs (1991) is nowhere to be found.
Otherwise, Saw VI isn’t a lot more than you’d expect. The twist is more reasonable this time (and doesn’t depend on cheating with the time frame) and you do find out what was in the mysterious box from Saw V (and is it ever a letdown). The performance from Peter Outerbridge is pretty dreadful without being nearly as funny as Cary Elwes’ performance in the original film. And, no, despite the rumors, Elwes does not reappear here. Maybe that’s on tap for Saw VII. Rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and language.