Would you like a little Death to go with your Life Insurance?
Jigsaw’s back, and this time – he’s killing Health Insurance reps! And I think I speak for everyone when I say, “And?”
It’s SAW VI, and vigilante Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, as ominous as ever!) has been terrorizing us for so long now (since 2004’s SAW), it was inevitable he would be re-appropriated into an unlikely hero. With the American “healthcare” system in such a shambles, we cheer his choice of victims this time ‘round. The “games” (as Jigsaw likes to term his murderous traps) are the best parts of the movie, even though we really don’t care whether any of his victims live or die. Mostly die.
SAW VI opens with two people entrapped in cages: a fat guy and a fit chick. To escape, they each need to offer a “pound of flesh” from their bodies, dropped onto a scale. At the end of 60 seconds, the person offering the most flesh is freed, while the other is killed. Suffice to say they wear fatal metallic headgear, with complex machinery registering their offered body parts. (We don’t even think about the non-believability of these intricate traps anymore – it’s part and parcel of our suspension of disbelief in any SAW movie.) The fat guy bunches his belly blubber and starts sawing it off in gruesome screaming pieces, while the skinny chick cannot think of any useless part of herself to sacrifice that matches the weight that fatty is dropping on the scales. So she hacks her arm off!…
Cue OPENING TITLES.
What made this cold open bearable was that both people were predatory lenders, rather than the usual ambiguous victims. Long-time SAW writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan hit on a milieu of victims for which nobody would shed too many tears! (If only they’d latched onto this angle earlier! – could’ve gotten rid of so many lawyers and tax collectors and Pharisees.) And director Kevin Grautert (editor on SAW II, III, IV and V!) keeps the killing tone exactly the same, except now it’s positively enjoyable!
Unlike many of the SAW movies, you don’t have to popcorn overload on previous SAW entries to understand this one, because the filmmakers have done their contextual homework in succinct flashbacks. We see the ending of SAW V, in which Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) cons Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) to his death, whilst framing him as Jigsaw. So when Strahm’s partner, Agent Perez (Athena Karkanis), is brought back from the dead for this film (she was most definitely killed in V!), we understand her motivation in fighting for Strahm’s innocence. This is so the hunt can turn to Hoffman, the real killer.
There is also backstory involving Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), Jigsaw’s wife, who busily goes about fulfilling Jiggie’s post-death wishes. And of course, there is dead Jigsaw, who, as in the last movie when he was dead, has more screentime than when he was alive: “Once you’ve seen death up close, then you know the value of life.” (Don’t you mean to say: “Once you’ve been dead for two movies, then you know the value of screentime.”?) He’s meticulous, thorough, far-planning, yet for all his ingenuity in creating those industrial steampunk torture devices, he can’t make one video recording without grainy noise or interference like he’s taping on a used analog video cassette from the 1980s while near the airport…
This time it’s personal! John Kramer aka Jigsaw, riddled with cancer, visits the CEO of a health insurance company, Erikson (Mark Rolston), to plead for coverage for an experimental treatment. He is, naturally, declined – because we all know this is absolutely NOT how you apply for health insurance, but I guess the filmmakers wanted a face-to-face confrontation, and have Kramer do his Jigsaw voice, “So you choose who lives and who dies?” (An ironic take on his own role in these SAW-fests.)
Erikson has a staff of six young hardbodies whose only job is to find discrepancies in insurance claims so that Erikson’s company can squirm out of paying them. Kramer should have petitioned these dishonorable swine. Even then, how do you get past the phone menu that would drive anyone to create homicidal Jigsaw traps?
Of course, Erikson wakes up strapped into a torture device, and his Diabolical Six strapped to a carousel of death. Health Insurance pricks. No one’s complaining.
Erickson is faced with the conundrum of allowing only two of his Swinish Six to live, as they spin on the carousel with a shotgun pointed at their chests. If it were up to me, these people whose job is to willfully deny other humans the right to health care, can ALL go to hell, or whatever suffices for that damnation in their respective hokey religions. Each young staffer pleads for their lives, and I understand the three men’s offers of riches and servitude, etc, but what surprises me is that none of the three women offers to be a suck-pig for Erickson in perpetuity. That’s definitely a card that women play. All the time. Why not in this R-rated movie? Too much respect for insurance assholes?!
Erickson’s first unwinnable “game” is to choose between his secretary (an old woman riddled with ailments, who would fail to be insured by his own company due to pre-existing conditions, but with many loving family members) and his intern (a young, lonely guy who would die without a trace, yet his whole life is ahead of him). After six movies, SAW is still doing what it does best: With each character’s conundrum, it’s really about “What Would YOU Do?”
“Until a person is faced with death, it’s impossible to tell whether they have what it takes to survive.” (Don’t you mean to say, “Until a person is faced with the American health insurance system, they used to have the will to survive.”?)
The sloppy screenwriting between the trap sequences is the failing in SAW VI:
- Hoffman leafs through five envelopes that he takes from Jill Tuck – the final Jigsaw targets (we see movie folders like this all the time, filled with 8 x 10 glossies of the targets, more than written information) – pulling out one photo to ask Jill, “Who’s this?” Christ! Read the bio, lazybones! Why do people NEVER read the bios and just look at the pictures?!
- A mother and son are trapped in a dungeon with a lever marked “Live” and “Die” connected to a vat of acid. Though they are involved in a surprising plot shock later, right now, the son desperately flips the lever to “Live.” Nothing happens. He exclaims incredulously that it doesn’t work, then flips it back and forth wildly – hey, whoa, Heath Ledger as Nurse Joker! Maybe the “Die” side works!
- Amanda is introduced by Jigsaw as a reformed junkie: “Here she stands – clean.” Hooray! But has Jigsaw had any experience with junkies? Will she still be clean tomorrow? And tomorrow after that? And after that? That’s why we call them junkies, Jiggie babe. Always in between fixes.
- At one point, the detectives working on Strahm’s case call in Hoffman just to show him an anomaly in Strahm’s fingerprint. They couldn’t tell him this on the phone? A terribly-acted sequence involving one-line extras who must have just gotten their SAG cards.
- What IS this warehouse that Hoffman keeps walking around in – a gigantic death palace that draws no curiosity from police, neighbors, council, electricity grids, contractors who deliver heavy equipment?
Finale finds Hoffman double-crossed for no reason, a bear trap of his own clacked onto his head. But instead of his life flashing before his eyes – all six SAW movies flash before his eyes!
Now that’s torture!