I rarely post on this website, so perhaps a review is a bit odd for my first thread since the forum was updated, but I'll try my hand at it.
If there's one name in the horror movie business that everyone knows the name of these days, it's definitely Saw, whether the name sparks enthusiasm or disgust. The general public mostly views it as the epitome of scum in the movie business with self-gratuitous violence and gore, little to no substance in the plot, and one-dimensional characters. Of course, on further inspection, you might find that these kinds of stereotypes are thrown out at just about every other horror movie that has ever existed, and that Saw is one of the few that stray away from it. Amongst its hardcore fans, the Saw series is known for having intriguing plots, powerful lessons/themes, surprising twists and.... well, surprises, and even some quality characters that do not fall under most stereotypical views. The series has succeeded in achieving all of these points in some ways, though it has certainly failed in others. Many fans feel the downward spiral started with IV, in which new writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan hopped aboard to write the second trilogy after Leigh Whannel backed off, choosing to end the series his own way with Saw III (considered by me to be the best of the series for a variety of reasons). The movie was interesting in its own right, but was weakened by a messy, convoluted script that attempted to cram way too many ideas into a movie that just barely crept over the 90-minute mark, as well as blatantly recycling ideas from past movies. Saw V continued this, but oh my, things became so much worse. The plot barely evolved, the characters were bland and uninteresting, the writing and directing held everyone's hand throughout it, suspending almost all intrigue. V was a 90-minute sleeping pill to many, including myself. It seemed like the glory days of Saw were over. The producers had taken control of the series, injecting their own deplorable ideas and concepts, with Patrick and Marcus simply as the monkeys who translate them onto paper. Was all hope lost? Was what was once an intelligent, thought-provoking series completely ruined?
There was hope.
Kevin Greutert, the editor of all the Saw films to date, certainly had a grueling task ahead of him. Heading the 6th installment as director, he had a lot of expectations to live up to. As opposed to what the public may choose to think, the people who are very closely involved in the series do care a great deals about how the fans feel, and anyone following the process on the "House of Jigsaw" can clarify that. Patrick and Marcus decided that it was time to stop screwing around and give the fans what they really wanted--something that harkened back to the glory days of Saw: Good characters with evolution, surprises, twists, an engaging story line, and finally.... maybe, a sense of resolution, similar to what Saw III provided.
Did they succeed? Short answer: Yes.
From the visceral opening to the explosive end, Saw VI is an adrenaline rush of everything that a fan could desire. Being highly serialized, it picks up essentially where Saw V left off, with Detective Hoffman as the successor to Jigsaw (or at least that's what he appears to be at first glance. Further inspection might show that he has different motives that do not relate to continuing his legacy), after the man himself was killed off in Saw III, along with his apprentice, Amanda Young. As the FBI draws closer, he has no choice but to set a game in motion--John "Jigsaw" Kramer's will, left by him in a box to his wife. Meanwhile, he's left to cover the tracks he has sloppily left behind in an attempt to keep his secret safe. The game itself follows the story of William Easton, an insurance tycoon who denied John the right to live after being diagnosed with cancer (one of the primary reasons for his evolution in the Jigsaw killer). William is forced to look at the way the concepts of his company have affected so many people, and now, Jigsaw forces him to play a game which he feels follows the same ideals. However, there's one last part of John's will to follow out, and it's one that only Mrs. Jigsaw herself can properly do...
While the previous one or two movies were replete with boring, one-dimensional characters that didn't even try to engage the audience, VI does the exact opposite. William Easton is perhaps just as likable as any other protagonist in the series. Surely the description above does not paint a nice picture of him, and the scenes leading up to his kidnapping by no means attempt to make the audience like him. Amazingly, though, the viewer cannot help but sympathize with him. Peter Outerbridge, who plays William, is a very gifted actor, who can say more with his facial expressions than most actors can say in a thousand words. Throughout the plot, you can see his evolution as he is forced to choose between who lives and who dies, much like his company does. The traps, as disturbing and gruesome as they are, are perfect symbols and metaphors for William's company, and perhaps only a movie like Saw could do it in such grisly ways. If one can get past the gore, the story line of Mr. Easton is an amazing one, as almost any fan would tell a Saw outsider. One of the best scenes involves a "carousel trap," in which six people from his company were placed on a spinning carousel. They find any discrepancies hidden within applications, resulting in two thirds of them denied. Just as two thirds are denied, four people are guaranteed to be killed by the shotgun placed directly in front of whoever is placed in front of it after the carousel stops spinning. Only two may live, but not without a sacrifice on William's part. The victims on the trap squirm, scream, shout, beg for mercy, and even attempt to bribe him. As opposed to what the reader of this review may think, the scene hardly focuses on how fancy the trap looks or the blood exploding from the victims' chests. The camera constantly focuses on William's countenance, which, with each passing moment, becomes more and more distressed and sorrowful. The last 2 minutes or so of the trap are some of the most emotional and personal of the entire franchise. The camera blurs and spins, perfectly detailing how Easton feels. Detective Hoffman was a brick wall in the past two movies (despite the attempt at forming for him a backstory with Jigsaw in Saw V), but somehow, Saw VI manages to skyrocket him to the top of many fans' favorite characters list. He's sinister, evil, sly, and, for lack of a better description, a total badass. One of the best scenes of the entire series takes advantage of a plot point left in Saw V, and it only seals Hoffman as all of these qualities.
John Kramer may have died in Saw III, but the series has always relied on flashbacks, and VI is no different. While in the past two films it felt like he was just lingering around, he's up-and-center in Saw VI, which revolves primarily around him and what he has left in store for the world of the living. Tobin Bell, who plays him, gives what his easily one of his most emotionally-charged performances yet, easily on par with his scenes in III. The series is truly blessed to have such a gifted and devoted actor as Bell, who allegedly carries around with him a book containing all of Mr. Kramer's life that he himself wrote. The flashbacks feel just as relevant to the current story as they ever have, and are loaded with more gems and easter eggs for the fans than ever thought possible. Shawnee Smith who plays Jigsaw's former apprentice, Amanda Young, finally returns after being absent from the past two films (which, in fall fairness, was due to scheduling conflicts). It was thrilling to see her character back, and one scene with her involves a twist that has to be seen to be believed... although, being anywhere form a moderate to a hardcore fan probably wouldn't hurt, either. Am I forgetting anything? Oh yes--the ending. The ending to Saw VI is perhaps the biggest fan service in the history of any movie, ever. Aside from what occurs in the ending, it provides a sense of a true *end* that could cause many to consider Saw VI to be the last, aside from the fact that Saw VI will be the last Saw movie to truly involve any more games or ideas left behind by John.
Director Kevin Gruetert breathes a lot of life back into Saw, with some amazing shots that not only raise intensity but perfectly capture the emotions of almost everyone present within the range of the camera. The music score, created solely by Charlie Clouser (who also scored the past five films) is scary, fun, action-y, epic, and emotional--perhaps his best yet. Of course, where would this film be without Patrick and Marcus? The past two films were mediocre, but if they were to stake their entire reputation on this film and this film alone, I'd say that they could sleep soundly at night to know that they made what is undoubtedly a classic Saw movie. They took a big risk with focusing on such a controversial subject in today's day and age with the healthcare system, but they did it in a way that was personal to both Kramer and Easton, and without being preachy at all.
If you're not a fan of the series, Saw VI certainly isn't going to sway you, partly because you'll barely be able to understand what's going on. Nonetheless, Saw VI is about as good as 6th movies of a series usually get. If you're a fan, then it's almost a guarantee that the ultimate creation of the new writers will thrill you.
My rating: 10/10