In the week before Halloween every year we can rely upon getting a nasty little trick or treat from Lions Gate Entertainment in the form of the latest addition to the Saw franchise. It’s now up to Saw VI, and unless you’re an avid Saw fan, and have been following the spiteful games of Jigsaw, aka John Kramer (Tobin Bell) and his protégés, the first 20 minutes of this film will be mostly incoherent and laboured – despite the blood letting. With Australian creators James Wan and Leigh Wannell merely collecting royalties, the story-telling has passed into the hands of writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (who wrote Saw IV and Saw V) and new director Kevin Gruetert – who has edited the franchise to date – and together they’re focused on wringing the last few drops of cash out of this beast with whatever it takes.
Opening with a grotesque “game” of self-mutilation – in which two bankers have to outdo each other in extracting pounds of their own flesh, the action switches to the ongoing investigation of the serial killing, with plenty of dreadful pseudo-police lines flung between Agent Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) and fellow FBI officers. They’re investigating the Jigsaw-style killings that have continued despite the death (way back in Saw IV) of the mind behind the mayhem. Once the story does settle down, it centres on William (Peter Outerbridge), a senior claims manager with an American health insurance company (in Hollywood terms, an organisation on about the same moral ground as the Russian mafia). William – as with all Jigsaw’s gamesters – has offended the main man in some way and must now play a deadly game in order to atone for his sins and understand the value of life.
More than any of the other Saw films, this one moves beyond mere hideous physical violence into a moral sphere, and I sat uncomfortably in my seat watching William forced to make dreadful choices about who – from amongst one group of people after another – should be horribly put to death before his eyes. Had there been some attempt at a reasoned conclusion to this ethical exploration I might have felt that the filmmakers were aiming marginally higher than the bloodied gutter where this franchise has found itself, but alas no, the final act of the film is merely – and gratuitously – the next scene before Saw VII. It’s no treat at all – just a series of tricks – leaving you needing the company of good people and a shower.