(by Dustin Putman
Surprise, surprise—another Halloween season, another "Saw." The tried-and-true torture-centric franchise, which should have ended after 2006's crafty "Saw III" seemingly tied up all the loose ends, shows no signs of slowing down. "Saw VI" is the latest, and there's good news and bad news on this go-round. The good: it is easily a step up from the worthless, dirge-worthy likes of 2007's "Saw IV" and 2008's "Saw V," containing a story that is timely in today's troubled economic times and some climactic twists that actually pull a fast one on the viewer and genuinely surprise. The not-so-good news, then, is that the film is still unnecessary and convoluted in the grand scheme of things, the series having long since run out of steam and freshness. "Saw" devotees are the only ones that need apply. Article continues below
For those keeping pace with the labyrinthine corkscrew of a plot, Agent Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), protégé of the now-deceased John Kramer/Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), not only claimed the life of hot-on-his-trail Agent Strahm at the end of the previous picture, but also framed him for the crimes. While investigators Erickson (Mark Rolston) and a presumed-dead-but-not Perez (Athena Karkanis) pour over evidence and continue to work on locating Jigsaw's helper, a new game has already begun at an abandoned zoo facility. William Easton (Peter Outerbridge), the crooked head of insurance company Umbrella Health, is kidnapped and put through a series of tests, faced with sacrificing himself little by little while deciding the fates of his also-trapped and also-guilty employees. With the clock ticking down, William moves ever closer to reaching his captive family.
Making his directorial debut on "Saw VI" after working as editor on all the previous entries is Kevin Greutert, and he does a respectable job under the circumstances of setting up a large ensemble of characters and then following them to their usually grisly conclusions. Greutert doesn't sway away from the already-established dreary aesthetics of the series—in the world of "Saw," no business, police station, hospital or morgue has apparently paid their electric bill—and a sense of fatigue on his part has noticeably set in when it comes to the uninspired, inevitable uses of the clown doll and sow's head, two calling card motifs. By now, there have been so many twisted games and bone-crunching, blood-thirsty traps that one really cannot take these movies seriously anymore. It's always just more of the same, the only difference being how well the formula is carried out.
In the case of "Saw VI," the film does squeak out a few moments of inspired tension, particularly in one scene set in a boiler room obstacle course and another involving a deadly merry-go-round of William's minions, each one lying, backstabbing and pleading to be spared by a boss who can only choose to save two people out of six. The early revelation that William was responsible for denying coverage for John so that he could try a potentially life-saving cancer treatment rings dramatically true, nicely tying into the better earlier films rather than the asinine last couple. Still, the narrative is all over the place, slowing down every time a character has to explain what is going on to the less-adept audience members. The police procedural subplot also strains credibility for the very fact that Costas Mandylor (2007's "Beowulf") plays Agent Hoffman with such a devious, weasely quality that he might as well have a neon sign blinking "KILLER" strapped to his chest and back. Nevertheless, no one seems to pick up the tell-tale signs before it's too late.
"Saw VI" answers some questions left dangling in the past, such as the contents in the box that John left wife Jill (Betsy Russell) in his will. The outcome of entrapped mother and son Tara (Shauna MacDonald) and Brett (Devon Bostick) is clever in its own way, too. At its center, though, is a horror series past its prime, not for people who like to be scared, but for those who get their kicks out of watching blood spray across the screen. There is nothing wrong with that, per se, but there also is very little talent required in making a person flinch in disgust. Get that same person to be genuinely spooked by the goings-on, afraid to go home alone or to bed where nightmares await, and then you might actually have something special that doesn't just require a special effects supervisor and gore wrangler.