Somehow or other, I’ve always been a year behind on the Saw films. I saw the first one a year after its release on DVD, and I’ve gotten into the habit of catching up the following year, just before the new one is coming out. This year is no different. People can debate the merits of the series for years, and there can be no doubt that it helped inspire an entire generation of filmmakers who think ultra-detailed gore and blood is a substitute for having an actual plot. But what about the series that somewhat popularized “torture porn?” I like the first Saw movie quite a big. Gory, yes, but not nearly as bad as the series would get later, and quite effective as a psychological thriller as opposed to a simple slasher film. The second film was a decent, if not brilliant follow-up, and the third one was surprisingly good at tying everything together. Then came Saw IV, the only one I’ve seen in a theater, which was so bad that it made the previous three films lost any sense of cohesion or logic. Five cleaned things up a little, but there was still work to do.
So now, Saw VI. This one continues the story of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, who died in the third film, but continues appear here in flashback), or more accurately, his would-be protege, Detective Mark Hoffman (played by Costas Mandylor). Hoffman is still following Jigsaw’s orders, kidnapping people who have displayed a lack of appreciation for human life and placing them in traps where they have to make torturous life or death decisions. This time, the victim is an insurance executive (Peter Outerbridge) who made the decision not to authorize an expensive, experimental treatment that may have saved Jigsaw’s life. This movie fortunately manages to avoid some of the sins of earlier films, with overlapping narratives that didn’t quite mesh up, and stays on a more-or-less linear course. The deathtraps are still highly elaborate, although I think we’ve pretty much reached a point where trying to become more elaborate than the previous films may be fruitless. Instead, the film endeavors to be at least different than the others, and in that it succeeds. The twist at the end of this film (unlike in four) is one that actually works well, playing off our preconceived notions of Outerbridge’s character to give us a surprising reveal that leads to a satisfying ending.
I was a bit disappointed that this was not going to be the final film in the series, as I’m almost certain was announced at one point, but at least it sounds like the diminishing returns the series has experienced are going to bring it to an end in this year’s Saw 3D. If you’ve made it this far in the series, it’s hard to imagine not checking out the conclusion. Although true to form, I’ll probably check it out via NetFlix… next Halloween.