In order to review the sixth installment in the yearly 'Saw' franchise, I had some homework to do, as I had slipped in my own personal following of the series. Honestly, I was so disappointed with 'Saw IV' that I waited to buy the fifth chapter until it was dirt cheap, and even then I let it sit on my shelf for more than a few months. In sitting down to 'Saw V,' though, I realized I made a terrible mistake: as bad as the film was (and it was pretty damn bad), it was still enjoyable.
What can I say? I guess bones popping through flesh, gaping flaws in logic, and horrific, borderline nightmarish acting exemplifies the kind of horror I was wanting at the moment: hard, fast, and bloody, utterly malicious and cruel, with zero scare factor.
For 'Saw VI,' there is no miracle resurrection. The Jigsaw killer (Tobin Bell) is still dead. But that doesn't stop him from showing up, as the past is fleshed out, explaining what made the man become a terrible twist on the term serial killer. His predecessor (the newest one, at least), Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), has just completed a "game" of his own, eliminating some of the evidence pointing to his takeover of the murderous role, when the new set of victims are kidnapped and forced to come to new conclusions about the meaning and value of life. A corrupt health insurance agent (Peter Outerbridge) is forced to play God with the lives of his employees, just as he did with the lives of those seeking coverage, and those seeking payments for medical care if they passed his cruel gauntlet. All the while, the mysterious box Jigsaw bequeathed his wife (Betsy Russell) has some of its contents revealed, and Hoffman must cover up more of his mistakes, as the feds draw closer to his identity.
I shouldn't laugh at horror, particularly that involving the torture of human beings, but really, I can't help it. Health insurance, the big "to do" in the government, that has both sides of the argument making extreme claims (death panels?), being the focus of a 'Saw' film? It is so perfectly fitting, and so perfectly timed, it just works. It also helps the series go full circle (which is the tag line for this entry), considering the fact that the first film was based around hospital care for the sickly John Kramer, and his vengeance against those in the health field who didn't care about the lives of individuals other than themselves.
The cruel sensibilities and teachings of Mr. Kramer are again lightly twisted in this film (lets face it: neither Amanda (Shawnee Smith) or Hoffman can live up to the master), with the climax of the "game" (as in, "I want to play a game...") providing a nice thinking man's twist (rather than one involving killer trees...) to a non-thinking man's series. Sadly, the tests of character, to teach lessons on humanity (and enthrall us gore-hounds), have gone so extreme that they're no longer effective. The opening to the film has no place in the scope of the film it is for, other than to provide the nastiest set up. The rest of the tests are hardly squirm inducing. Oh no, a killer merry-go-round. Gee, steam. How genuinely unique and suspenseful...
I enjoyed the reference to previous 'Saw' films, concerning the climax to one of the tests, as well as the bringing back of one of the classic 'Saw' devices, but beyond smirking at the less-than subtle predicament of this film's guinea pig, there wasn't much to enjoy. The acting was horrific, a far cry from when Cary Elwes damn near single-handedly carried the first film on his believability alone. Mandylor is the most egregious violator, again, as the Hoffman character is probably the worst candidate possible to replace Kramer as Jigsaw. His performance alone makes me wish the filmmakers hadn't screwed up in killing off Kramer so fast in the series. Mark Rolston (who plays Dan Erickson), and Athena Karkanis (Agent Lindsey Perez) feel fresh out of the Keanu Reeves school of cardboard acting. The reliance on using a long dead character through flashbacks fleshes out the other films, but also makes the film damn near unwatchable for those new to the series. It also cuts into the time allotted for the events happening in the current. It seems 'Saw VI' wants to remember the glory years, and would rather focus on the past to do so than focus on itself, what the series has become.
'Saw VI' isn't the worst film in the series (in my eyes, that honor goes to the fourth entry), but it's quite distanced from the best, the original. The series has been one-upping itself for too many years now, both in terms of providing a bigger twist and more elaborate traps (creating a massive plot hole: how exactly were there this many participants kidnapped in such short time to set things in motion? Does Hoffman have years of experience putting GHB in the drinks of entire dormitories?), and by forcing a release every Halloween, it is possible that the stunted, lazy nature of the series as of late falls on the lack of time to properly get this vehicle back on track on top of the desire to go bigger, faster. It doesn't help that the mistakes of prior entries have to be followed, for continuity's sakes. The series needs to get back on track; forgo having the victim having to choose the fates of others, as it is much more effective to have the participants fighting their own bodies. Focus on the current, not the past. Move forward. Until that sequel comes, with a new Jigsaw killer operating in a less convoluted world that can have its own backstory fleshed out freely rather than tightly constricted, fans of the series will find less and less to be fans about.
'Saw VI' is presented with an AVC MPEG-4 encode (1080p, 1.78:1) that, if you've seen the previous 'Saw' films on Blu-ray, is more of the same, which is a good-bad thing. Color bleeding, over-saturation, and an excessively hot contrast level is a part of the film series' aesthetic, so when grading the video, it is a matter of intention versus actual. No matter the intent, the choices do hamper finer detail, skin tones (which go from dark pink to nuclear white in less than eight inches), and color depth. There are some very fine close ups, with great detail that beguile the excessive heat, while walls and surroundings all are fantastic in their display of decay.
Black levels are random, sometimes gorgeously deep, other times too bright, and are particularly off in the final shot of the film, with blacks exposing some cheaper special effects. Grain levels run a hair thick, but it adds fantastic grit to the picture. What doesn't add grit is the digital noise, a mainstay of the series, which is particularly noticeable in skin tones and whites. Reds pop, almost exaggeratively. Delineation isn't all too superb, while blacks are the host of a bit of obvious artifacting. Also noticeable is a light amount of ringing. The films in this series aren't meant to be eye candy, and are intentionally dark, gloomy, and nasty.
Again, more of the same! The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix provided to 'Saw VI' is the highlight of the release, just like the previous few entries. Dialogue is prioritized, thankfully, but there are times when "games" get hectic, and the screams from participants blend in with the score, bass, and atmospheric sounds (not to mention the sounds emanating from the "games" themselves!). Rear speakers are utilized properly, with a frequent amount of random ambient noise, not to mention some solid localized effects, as well as a few moments of movement coming from camera swoops. The dynamic range is quite effective, particularly during the moments of torture, with the bass thumping and bumping with renewed fervor, while the high end squeals often from the creaky nature of the contraptions on screen. My biggest complaint was that the score found itself being drowned out a few times too often for its own good. This is a solid audio mix, quite respectable and worthy of praise, it just isn't perfect.
Before navigating any part of the menu, let alone the supplements, may I advise the viewer to go into the menu options and mute the entire menu? The selection sounds Lionsgate put on this film are absolutely atrocious, more nerve wracking than anything in the film itself. 90 minutes of that noise and I'd be likely to kill.
'Saw VI' won't convert any non-fans. It probably won't appeal to anyone outside of the existing 'Saw' franchise followers. This entry, which is heavily based on films of 'Saw' past, is certainly a step up from 'Saw IV,' but a step backwards from 'V.' The Blu-ray contains solid audio and video, and a nice pile of extras, including the original film. This release is worth a look, but it's a risky blind buy.