The Saw series long ago cannibalized its cleverest bloodbath gimmicks, but now it’s figured out a new way to torture us: by taking a barb-wire stab at political relevance. In the opening sequence of Saw VI, two parasitical bureaucrats of the pre-crash American economy — the implication is that they’re subprime mortgage vendors — pay for their sins, and compete for survival, by seeing which one can lop off a weightier portion of body parts before a timer runs out. The pudgy white guy saws away at his belly fat, but the fierce black woman is way ahead of him — she grabs a butcher knife and hacks, hacks, hacks off her forearm, easily outdoing his measly pound of flesh. The fact that each one makes the choice to suffer (rather than die) is the key to the sadomasochistic appeal of the Saw films. The characters’ effective collaboration in the series’ pain games plays as a metaphor for those of us in the audience, who have all made the choice to get off on these mutilation-porn theatrics.
John Cramer (Tobin Bell), the Jigsaw puppeteer and twinkly-eyed sadist-mechanic-ringleader of the Saw series, was killed off several installments ago, but thanks to the miracle of pre-taped torture-play instructions, he seems busier in death than he ever was in life. His mission in Saw VI is to teach a lesson to William (Peter Outerbridge), the CEO of a health-insurance company who hides his lust for profit behind a welter of fake smiles and byzantine actuarial data. It’s fine that the producers of the series have come up with some topical bad guys, but I’d be remiss in my duty as a critic if I didn?t write the following sentence: The trouble with Saw VI is that it never devises cool enough ways to torture people. Where are the baroquely jaw-dropping (if not jaw-snapping) De Sadean Rube Goldberg contraptions? At one point, the CEO has to decide which of his six underlings, all strapped to a carousel, will live or die (the game is supposed to reveal to him that in his insurance work, he’s really playing God), but since we don’t give a hoot about any of them, and the method of death is unremarkable, the sequence is a dud.
So is the rest of the movie. Saw VI is the thinnest, draggiest, and most tediously preachy of the Saw films. It’s the first one that’s more or less consumed by backstory — which is to say, it’s one of those hollow franchise placeholders in which far too many fragments from the previous sequels keep popping up in flashbacks. If your goal is to do a quick study for a round of Saw Trivial Pursuit, then this may be the movie for you. If you’re looking to be jolted into fear or queasy laughter, skip this sequel and hope that the producers get their sick act together next time. D
Talk about Saw on the Movie Critics blog:
Saw: Can it bring the pain forever? And should it?