Tag Archives: Mark Rolston

Saw VI (2009) Review

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Saw 6

Time: 93 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] contains sadistic violence
Cast:
Tobin Bell as John Kramer/Jigsaw
Costas Mandylor as Detective Mark Hoffman
Mark Rolston as Agent Dan Erickson
Betsy Russell as Jill Tuck
Shawnee Smith as Amanda Young
Peter Outerbridge as William Easton
Director: Kevin Greutert

The legacy of the Jigsaw Killer continues as his successor Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) follows his instructions while his wife (Betsy Russell) carries out his final request.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Photo: Steve Wilkie

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.

Saw V (2008) Review

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Saw 5

Time: 92 minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Torture & Sadistic Violence
Cast:
Tobin Bell as John Kramer
Costas Mandylor as Detective Mark Hoffman
Scott Patterson as Agent Peter Strahm
Betsy Russell as Jill Tuck
Julie Benz as Brit
Meagan Good as Luba Gibbs
Mark Rolston as Agent Dan Erickson
Carlo Rota as Charles
Director: David Hackl

Although Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) are dead, the game still lures five unassuming victims. In the guise of a survival of the fittest routine, the contestants begin their journey towards a deadly end.

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After Saw IV, it seems like the Saw series just seems to be going down this path of every instalment being subsequently worse. However, for some odd reason I’m interested to actually watch all of them, even if most of them aren’t exactly good. I was hoping that Saw V would improve from the last instalment, especially with how messy that one was. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, in fact I’d actually say it’s a bit worse. Not the step down that III was from II or IV was from III, but I’m less favourable towards V, even if I enjoy parts of it.

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Saw IV was quite complicated with its storylines. This time it’s a little less complicated with Saw V, consisting with a new game with the new victims, Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) as the new Jigsaw, and FBI Agent Strahm’s (Scott Patterson) investigation into Hoffman. With that said, the plot is also rather forgettable and dull, the most forgettable of the movies so far. Something that you’ll be able to tell early on is that this movie is first and foremost dedicated to lore, the plot is secondary, and there’s a lot of focus on backstory with a lot of exposition. John Kramer/Jigsaw does make some appearances in flashbacks given that he’s dead, but unlike Saw IV there isn’t a whole storyline dedicated to him alone. On one hand, the idea of less Jigsaw in this movie wasn’t exactly exciting, as Tobin Bell (actor for Jigsaw) and Charlie Clouser’s scores are really the only consistently good things across all of these movies. At this point though, the series has to try something else and not be held back by him, so I do respect it trying to move on, while giving a bit of Jigsaw. Of the main storylines, I’ll start with the one focusing on the group of people stuck in the traps, probably because there’s not much to really say about that one. The theme of the traps involves people having to work together to survive, I do like that idea and it’s quite an interesting one for this series to have. There’s also social commentary on real estate people, and there’s decent enough conflict with the victims fighting for survival, including fighting themselves. Unfortunately, the execution is quite weak compared to Jigsaw’s other games, from the mediocre and unlikable characters, to how its not even the main focus of the movie. By the end of the movie, the trap plot becomes something of a subplot. As I said, Saw V is more about the lore and backstory than the plot, and the former is more what the other two storylines are about.

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The cliffhanger of Saw IV revealed Hoffman as the secret Jigsaw apprentice teased throughout that movie. Now that John Kramer is dead, this leaves Hoffman as his successor, and his storyline is about that. A large portion of the scenes consist flashbacks, where it goes back to times of the past Saw movies and shows how Hoffman was involved in some past iconic moments and traps. Saw III showed Amanda and how she was involved with some of the events of the past Saw movies, but at least those were shown in a few scenes or brief montages. With Hoffman in Saw V however, there are extensive scenes showing them. These are the only moments where it can get convoluted, when it goes back to the past Saw movies and especially with the interconnectivity. Some of it can get tedious, but I did like the connections. The third storyline is that of Strahm from the last movie, as he’s investigating Hoffman as he suspects him as being an accomplice to Jigsaw. There is a problem however that takes away from what could’ve been an interesting storyline, we already know the truth of Hoffman’s link to Jigsaw. Now Strahm isn’t dumb, he is smart for figuring out everything all by himself. However you do wonder what the point of it is when we mostly know everything already, and it’s not really gripping. It’s also particularly dull, Strahm looks at pieces of information and speaks exposition out loud for the audience. Ultimately you realise at a certain point that the Strahm storyline with him figuring out Hoffman is just to serve the latter’s backstory, as we learn about him. I think ultimately how well this movie works for you depends on how interested you are in Hoffman as a character. As it was, I found him okay, but he really doesn’t do enough in this movie to make me particularly engaged in him or interested with the idea of him being the new Jigsaw. There are plenty of twists as to be expected, but they aren’t great or unexpected like a lot of the other movies. The ending has one of those big Saw endings with the music and the reveals, it’s enjoyable as always but is a bit goofy and doesn’t hit as hard as much as the first three. Saw V is about 90 minutes long and while it wasn’t tough to get through, it was a bit of a slog, especially in contrast with the other movies, even the fourth.

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The acting from the main cast is good, the rest is a mixed bag. I guess one could call the main character Peter Strahm, played by Scott Patterson. On one hand there’s parts of the character I like. He is one of the smarter main characters of the Saw series, in one of his earliest scenes he escapes a trap that was meant to kill him. Not only that, but he manages to figure out Hoffman and Jigsaw all by himself. With that said, him being smart does make some of his later dumb decisions frustrating. Additionally, Strahm doesn’t do much beyond move from place to place to deliver exposition, we don’t actually get to learn much about him, and he’s not developed as a character. Costas Mandylor plays Mark Hoffman, the secret apprentice to Jigsaw. He does appear broody and menacing and I guess he plays his part. Again though, Hoffman hasn’t done much to make himself interesting enough as a character. As I said earlier, Tobin Bell still gets to play some role here in flashbacks as Jigsaw, mainly to do with Hoffman. As usual he’s great and his screen presence is strong as always, even in the numerous scenes where they are just showing behind the scenes of past traps, Bell still does very well in his part. There’s an extensive scene where these two major characters meet for the first time, and it’s one of the best scenes in the movie. The characters outside of those three are typical horror movie characters, they weren’t interesting, they are hard to like, and their acting aren’t good. It’s worse when none of them are really a main character in this story. Even with Saw II, the game had at least the son of the main character and Amanda. None of the characters in the traps of Saw V has an impact on the rest of the overall plot, it didn’t feel like it mattered if they lived or died.

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After three Saw sequels with Darren Lynn Bousman, there’s a new director for this 5th instalment. This new director is David Hackl, who served as on production design in the Saw sequels. It was an opportunity to add a fresh directing voice to the Saw series. The direction is solid enough, but isn’t special or anything. Oddly enough, a great aspect in the movie is the editing. Gone are the quick firing and flashy cuts from the Darren movies, it’s a lot more refined and clean. At the same time, its got the right amount of intensity. As to be expected from Saw movies, there are traps and gore. Unfortunately the traps aren’t that special. The opening pendulum, the water cube, and the ending trap are the only memorable ones really, even the traps from Saw IV generally stood out to me more. One of the most surprising parts of Saw V is that for the most part there are less actual gore, especially compared to III and IV. It doesn’t necessarily make it better or worse, just an interesting thing to see. Charlie Clouser’s score as usual fits perfectly with the movies, especially with the tense moments and reveals.

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Saw V is yet another mixed bag of a movie from this series. Now I still do like this movie, in the same way I liked IV despite everything about it. I only think it’s slightly worse than IV because it actually feels dull in parts and less memorable, it’s the least memorable of the 5 movies so far. This is probably the first point in the series where we have a Saw movie that really didn’t need to exist. Just watch Saw V if you watched IV and were still willing to watch more. I do feel like that’s the general feeling for the whole series, if you haven’t been alienated or given up by this point, watch the next movie. There’s 3 movies left in the series to get through, and at the moment the only one of them I’m at least hopefully for is VI.