The last game Judge Bill Gibron played was strip Candyland. He lost.
The Game Has Come Full Circle…Until October 2010.
Where, exactly, do we go from here?
That's the question facing producers of the already in production Saw VII 3D. With each movie further extrapolating out the legacy of John "Jigsaw" Kramer and the various peoples and cabals his serial killer life touched on, it's got to be more and more difficult to figure out where to take the series. Currently, police detective turned disciple Mark Hoffman is busy playing clean-up, taking care of much of Kramer's unfinished business, while fiancé Jill Tuck has got a few post-mortem mandates of her own to act upon. With the health care crisis looming as a backdrop and a sleazy insurance company as the source of payback, it would be nice to say that Saw VI is a return to form. Better than Saw V, it's both indicative of, and proof that, with a little imagination, this scary movie dynasty can probably last forever—and that might not necessarily be a good thing.
Facts of the Case
William Easton (Peter Outerbridge, Lucky Number Splevin) is the head of a ruthless corporate health insurer that prides itself on finding loopholes and legal outs in providing coverage to his its clients. One of these former hard luck cases, John Kramer (Tobin Bell, Buried Alive), later became the infamous Jigsaw Killer, and while currently six feet under, his protégé Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor, Beowulf) is making sure that those who wronged him pay—and pay dearly. In this case, Easton's young team of paper-pushing bureaucrats will be put through a series of puzzle games, each a deadly test of personal mantle and individual ethos. In the meantime, Hoffman has become a person of interest to FBI agents Erickson (Mark Rolston, Aliens) and Perez (Athena Karkanis, Survival of the Dead). Originally, they thought fallen comrade Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson, Gilmore Girls) was the one determined to carry on Jigsaw's "work." But now they are suspicious of Hoffman, and with good reason.
Like the Star Trek films, which used a "odd/even" theory to explain their success/failure rate, Saw suffers from a similar critical coincidence. If looked at as "trilogies"—which is how the series presents itself—the following movie maxim applies: Part one is usually excellent, Part two is almost always terrible, Part three just settles in and saves the day. In retrospect, Saw was sensational, an original and witty take on the whole "trapped and terrified" ideal. Saw II subverted that Hitchcock by way of MTV style to focus on the deadly puzzles that Jigsaw sets up. Saw III went back to character and creative narrative reinvention to pull everything together—a trend carried on expertly by Saw IV. Saw V, on the other hand, was a mess, a cobbled together collection of redundant riffs poorly directed by a filmmaker (David Hackl) without his own assured approach. Instead, it mixed mediums and types, going gonzo when it should have simmered, shouted when it should have whispered. Now Saw VI emerges and reasserts the value of the franchise itself. While not perfect, it's a bloody good step in the right direction.
It helps to have someone to hate, and Outerbridge's bastard CEO Easton is an excellent villain. He has a certain smug superiority that plays right into what Jigsaw (or in this case, his lingering philosophy) is preaching. Similarly, Mandylor is very good as serial substitute Hoffman. While not as spine-chillingly psycho as Shawnee Smith's Amanda Young, he has enough machismo mystery to keep us engaged. As with previous installments, the gore acts as a buffer between the unreality of the traps and the resulting death. In the unrated director's cut offered on the Blu-ray and DVD, there is much more of the red stuff. But we also get additional personality beats, moments when the six and counting conceit of this franchise fulfills its promise. As a story, everything seems to fall into place this time out, the health care angle really providing the movie an ample backdrop for more of Jigsaw's "justice." And since so much of the motivation falls on his incurable condition starting out, it makes a lot of sense as well.
Of course, there is a drawback to Saw VI, and it's the same one the series has suffered from since the inception of Saw III—once you kill off Jigsaw, and leave the plotting to persons outside the main murderer's row, you face some real problems of plausibility. For a while, it looked like each installment would pick a more or less ancillary individual from the previous storyline, turn them into the driving force for the new film, and then hope the audience doesn't recognize the numerous narrative contrivances. When Dr. Gordon is brought back in, or when drug dealer Xavier is name checked, it's eyebrow-cocking time. Since it is clear that Saw was never meant as a multipart presentation, the fact that they've found a way to maintain the premise for this long is staggering. But Saw VI, like Saw V before, it definitely showing said stretch marks. And then there is the issue of where things go from here. While the ending is not quite as definitive as the body part blow-out of Saw III, it doesn't leave a lot room to maneuver.
As part of the Blu-ray package, Lionsgate delivers something very unusual—a stand-alone Blu-ray version of the first Saw without a single bit of added content. Yes, it's cool to get an entire free movie on this high definition format. But who wants one that has absolutely none of the bonus features available on the commercial product. So such an inclusion is a bit of a mixed bag. Also of note is the "unrated director's cut" version of Saw VI. There is more gore here and some interesting added bits.
As for the technical specs, the 1080p HD image is excellent, very detailed and loaded with color. The 1.78:1 transfer treats the dark scenes well, allowing for a high contrast between the action, the atmosphere, and the violence. Of course, the picture pigment scheme stays squarely in the green/gray/brown industrial arena. There's also a lot of grain present, and some banding. But overall, the visual element here is excellent.
Similarly, the DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio is good, if not great. Saw is a very talky franchise, and aside from the occasional musical flourishes, there's not a lot of ambience here. The dialogue is direct and easy to understand, and the channels do get a workout when the atrocities start (there's available English SDH and Spanish subtitles available).
As for added content, we get a couple of clever commentaries (one from the producers, one from director Kevin Greutert and the writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton) that delve into the research and reach going into each succeeding Saw film. In addition, there's a discussion of the various traps, a look at the making of the Saw video game (how, exactly, will that work) and a music video. Toss in the standard Blu-ray froufrou like "Lionsgate Live" and BD Touch/Metamenu Remote Enabling and you've got a nice high end product.
For a while, Saw seemed like the saving grace of horror. While definitely gruesome and glorifying of the red stuff, James Wan's original was a hectic, Master of Suspense music video. Today, talent and artistry have been traded for money and massive narrative manipulation. This doesn't make Saw VI bad, just beleaguered. While a vast improvement over the muddled and meaningless Saw V, it can barely stand with Saw III as a viable variation on the theme. Three dimensions or not, it looks like James Wan and Leigh Whannel's cash cow may finally be running out of milk. Luckily, Saw VI found a way to rejuvenate its lagging fortunes. Where we go from here, however, is anyone's guess.
Not Guilty, but only by the slightest of margins. The Saw people are really pushing their luck.
Here's hoping they can find some new meat in the old macabre abattoir.
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