Friday, October 23, 2009

October Horror-thon #23: "Saw VI" (2009)

When viewers last gazed upon the dingy, dirt-encrusted visage of the Saw franchise, Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) secured his status as heir to the late John Kramer (Tobin Bell), alias Jigsaw. After dispatching the final witness to his madness, Hoffman is free to continue Jigsaw's legacy with the most devious and personal game yet. The key figure this time is William (Peter Outerbridge), a health care rep notorious for intensely scrutinizing claims. But after years of indirectly choosing who dies and who lives, William is about to taste his own medicine via a series of gruesome trials, a la Jigsaw. However, Hoffman isn't out of the woods yet, for the authorities are onto his deadly double life, forcing him to cover his tracks long enough to see the latest game through.

Saw VI is the latest chapter in a story that should have ended three movies in. The series began with a brain, but that made it hurt double so as it descended into redundancy. But in its defense, Saw VI has more in mind than existing for its own sake. In connecting its central themes to the hot-button issue of health care, the film brings more relevance to the franchise than it's seen in ages. The undertones are a thin beef, a rejiggered take on the standard Jigsaw philosophy, but just enough is tinkered with so as to perk things up for those who've followed the madman's tangled web since day one. It's interesting to see William, someone who decides the fates of others for a living, endure the traps, which often have him faced with being able to spare only one's life over another, laying the groundwork for a wry nugget of commentary.

But most won't some to see Saw VI whip out ye olde soapbox, which is why it comes with plenty of grue to spare. The change in villain comes with even more twisted logic; it's not so much a matter of if someone dies but who, as someone's guaranteed to bite the big one no matter what. It's not as suspenseful, sure, but the film makes up for it with traps that earn their shocks without being needlessly complex (including one meant to leave its victims breathless in more ways than one). Tobin Bell keeps the Jigsaw mystique alive even in flashbacks, providing a bit of insight into how he became one of horror's heaviest hitters. I dare not spoil other figures who drift in and out of the picture, but I will say that there's enough commitment to story and character so as not to feel self-indulgent (or not as much compared to the last two films).

Do I miss the modesty of the first Saw movies? As ironic as the notion sounds, I do. I miss the rush I felt seeing the original for the first time, as I now dread how the series will try to extend its expiration date. It's a hesitant recommendation , but I must say that Saw VI was a fulfilling enough excursion back to the franchise's roots, one that, as brief as it was, gave me hope that Jigsaw would soon receive a long-overdue burial.
(Full review coming soon!)

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