Even though I had enjoyed the Saw movies up to this point, they’ve been getting a little dull. The previous movie, Saw V, particular,y left me rather underwhelmed. Despite the series being in decline, I had some hopes for Saw VI just based off the things I had heard a bit about it. Having watched it, I can say that I actually ended up liking this a lot more than I thought I would. After the past couple of entries, it’s a return to form for the series.
The past couple of movies have been spending a lot of time taking place in the past. Thankfully with the exception of some flashbacks, Saw VI is mostly spent in the present. The main storylines in this movie consists of a new game that people are trapped in, and Hoffman dealing with John Kramer’s wife Jill Tuck, along with an FBI investigation into the identity of Jigsaw. The game focuses on the insurance industry and the US healthcare system, with the main victim of Jigsaw’s game this time being the executive of an insurance company. This is a hot topic especially considering it was 2009, but it’s still socially relevant to this day. I found the approach to be very interesting and unexpected, as I didn’t really expect the Saw series to tackle social issues. It’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer and it’s pretty blatant with the way it’s written, but this hasn’t been a subtle series on any level so that’s not really a problem. I admire them actually going in this different direction. Not to mention, it actually fits perfectly and makes sense that this would be something that John Kramer would focus on. It’s pretty clear that unlike some of the other games, this one is actually personal for him. There are some flashbacks with John Kramer and the main victim William Easton (the insurance executive), which really links things together. Not only that, but you can see how some of what happened in the past would inspire Jigsaw to take the approaches that he takes as a serial killer, especially with the whole choosing life or death aspect. The one thing I will say though is that I’m not sure why this game hadn’t happened sooner as opposed to being one of Kramer’s final requests considering how important this was for him. You’d think that this would’ve been one of the first games he would’ve tried after becoming Jigsaw. As for the game itself, there are moral dilemmas that Easton faces throughout. In some of the past Saw movies, they try to present difficult situations to the main character, and usually it doesn’t leave an impact on you. Here it’s genuinely nerve wrecking as the main character often has to decide who lives and who dies.
Detective Mark Hoffman’s (Costas Mandylor) storyline is the other major part of the story. He was the clear cut successor to Jigsaw, and as that he was a little underwhelming in Saw V despite some of his background being revealed. However, he does a lot more here, and ultimately is a notable improvement in this movie. He has some great moments in this movie, one of the highlights involving a voice recording. Like in Saw V, there are flashbacks of Hoffman working with Jigsaw, and also Amanda, and I found those scenes to be interesting. There is even a reveal that retroactively improves an aspect from Saw III (even if it does raise a question by itself). Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), the husband to John Kramer, was introduced in Saw IV and got some screentime in V. She gets to do stuff in Saw VI too and I like how she was utilised. Here she is going to fulfil her husband’s final mysterious request which is built up over the course of the movie. In the last movie, she was left a box by John Kramer, and we finally see what’s in that box. There’s also an investigation about the identity of Jigsaw over the course of the movie, which is typical of Saw. At least with the FBI investigation this time though, it doesn’t pull a Saw V and give exposition to the audience and have them reveal things that we already know. This storyline is more about whether Hoffman will get away with it. I mostly liked it, though I do kind of wish some of it went differently. For example, some of the decisions from the agents towards the end of the plotline were a little silly and not that well thought out. The ending is great, with both storylines being ended well. Without getting into it, the sequence that occurs right before the credits is one of my favourite scenes in the series. For what it’s worth, there’s also a post credits scene, though whether it pays of in the next Saw movie remains to be seen at this point. On the whole, Saw VI starts out strong from the beginning and stays strong all the way to the end. You can tell from the beginning that the pacing is much better and not sluggish. There’s a strong balance between horror and drama, which the past few movies had struggled with. It’s also a lot more focused with the plot, not as messy as Saw IV and not as (for lack of a better word) pointless as Saw V. While there are some lore and backstory revealed in flashbacks, they don’t feel forced and they work naturally for the characters and the story. The emotional stakes are raised in both storylines too, which I wasn’t really expecting. Now it is still over the top and unbelievably ridiculous, but it’s gloriously and entertainingly so. Some moments and character decisions are far-fetched and don’t make sense. However, if you’ve reached the sixth movie in this gory soap opera at this point, you’ve come to expect all that.
The acting in all the Saw movies is a mixed bag, but Saw VI has probably the strongest acting on a general level. First there’s the returning characters. Tobin Bell as John Kramer/Jigsaw is once again great, he’s still very much here through flashbacks, but it’s done to enhance the story. I guess you could say that he’s used similarly to how he was utilised in Saw V, but it’s done better here. He feels like a presence throughout in every storyline, from the main Jigsaw game which was personal to him, to other people that he knew like Hoffman and Jill. Costas Mandylor returns as Hoffman, and as I said earlier he’s much better in this movie than he was in Saw V. He’s very different than Jigsaw as a character, but I liked that, and he has some fantastic moments here especially in the last section of the film. I will say though that once again, he sticks out as being such an obvious villain. There’s a scene with him and a Jigsaw survivor in a hospital, and he’s just cartoonishly suspicious it was actually unintentionally funny. Betsy Russell as Jill Tuck gets to do some things in the plot, and Shawnee Smith even returns as Amanda Young in some scenes for some flashbacks. The acting of the people in the game are still a mixed bag, but generally the acting from them here is surprisingly decent for a Saw movie. The lead in this storyline is Peter Outerbridge as William Easton, the insurance executive that Jigsaw forces to play the game. There’s plenty of reasons to not like Easton, but Outerbridge manages to make you sympathise for him with everything that he’s going through.
Kevin Greutert directs this movie, and this is his debut feature film. The previous director of a Saw movie was the production designer of the sequels, and Greutert also has a link to the series from being the editor of the past 5 movies. On the whole, I think the direction was solid. The editing is probably better than the first four movies at the very least. It’s still frantic during the more intense moments, but it has been toned down so it’s not quite as distracting or obnoxious. With that said, some of the editing can still be unnecessarily fast paced, even in normal scenes. There’s a scene between John Kramer and William Easton where they are talking, and every so often the camera speeds between their faces for no reason. The traps of the past movies have been mostly underwhelming, especially Saw V. Saw VI however sets the tone for the rest of the movie by opening with an incredibly brutal trap that I wasn’t expecting, establishing it as one of the more brutal entries in the series (or at least more so than the past couple of movies). The traps can be quite creative, there’s one based on oxygen, and while it’s not as brutal as some of the other traps, it was certainly unique for the series. There’s some larger scale traps for the series, including a steam maze and most infamous of all, the shotgun carousel. The latter of which is among the best traps from the whole series, and while featuring some gore, seemed to focus a lot more on tension. That’s the other thing, I genuinely felt tense during many of the moments in this movie, whereas in a lot of traps in the other movies I don’t usually feel anything. Charlie Clouser’s score as to be expected is fantastic, I actually can’t imagine a Saw movie without his music work, it’s so iconic to and synonymous with the series.
For what it’s worth, Saw VI is the best Saw movie since Saw II. The storyline was more focused and engaging, the traps were memorable and crazy, and it features some of the best moments from the whole series. I wouldn’t call it great, it definitely has its faults and in a lot of ways unbelievably silly and ridiculous (especially considering where the series had started). But by Saw movies standards, VI mostly certainly is great. Even if you didn’t like the past few Saw movies, I recommend giving this one a chance.