Saw VI – still sharp after all these years?

Saw VI was the first film in the series to not slash through the £100 million barrier in the US thanks to it being brutally slain at the Halloween box office by Paranormal Activity, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t any good, reports Dean Newman.

The Saw series, or dare I say phenomenon, first leapt out onto cinema screens back in 2004 and has been back again regular as clockwork each Halloween since, not bad for a series whose main character ‘died’ in part 3!

Still inventive, still disturbing. Yet it’s the twist and turns of the storyline that I watch it for and how they oh so cleverly link it to the movies and characters that have come before, quite literally a jigsaw of a film franchise, apt considering it’s also the moniker of the main character. It certainly won’t be easy for new fans to pick up the series from here, but that is the joy of following the threads and tangents right from the start.

Talking of the main character, the Jigsaw clown puppet has to be the only horror icon from the last decade, sharing the same status as the likes of Ghostface, Leatherface, Freddy, Jason, Michael and Chucky. After all what other pure horror series has spawned both a theme park ride and a game, certainly none of the aforementioned. In fact Saw VI even inspired a reality TV programme, no really, called ‘Scream Queens’ on VH1 where nubile young ladies had to ‘die’ convincingly for a part in this very film, makes a change to singers killing songs on The X Factor.

Most of the time you could argue whether the Jigsaw killer, the latest incarnation being Costas Mandylor, is almost a vigilante of sorts as the people strapped up to devices are generally not the nicest of folk, although in actual fact he is doing the bidding of original pig head wearing fiend played by Tobin Bell.

And so to the latest instalment, this time the franchise has a conscience and actually chooses an issue that is especially topical in the US, healthcare, although it kicks proceedings off with a bloody nod and wink mutilation of two loan sharks. Jigsaw’s victims this time round, as ever people who have sucked the goodness from society, are health insurers and namely the people who find flaws in health insurance policies so they don’t have to pay the dying. At one point John (Tobin) even comments that people think healthcare decisions are made by doctors, patients and the government, but they are made by the insurance companies.

Of course, it just so happens one of the clients they didn’t honour was Jigsaw. Thus this set-up neatly riffs on the usual Saw story of human survival and how people react when faced with death. This film, and franchise as a whole, raises the horror bar as it’s not just a group of annoying teens being stalked and slashed, there is purpose and reason. More importantly there is plenty of creativity, which is astonishing with it being the sixth in the series, personally I feel parts II and III were the weakest.

Life insurance salesman, William Easton, and the man who denied Jigsaw and other terminal people like him, just sees figures and potential survival rates…until he sees the figures of his work colleagues being offered up for sacrifice, but who does he choose to save from being hanged, the middle aged woman with diabetes and a family or the healthy young man with no family? It’s certainly much more fun than Ant and Dec’s Push the Button and is quite primal in its horror.

One scene where Easton quite literally gets blood on his hands is where he decides on which two people to save from a group of six, the people up for sacrifice are those who spot errors in claims and policies resulting in two thirds being denied, ironically denying two thirds of them life. He has to look at the victims as they die…something he never, or they never have to do in real life. For horror, at least, it’s all thought provoking stuff.

Throughout, the film jumps between the duel storylines of the life insurance executive and his bids for freedom and the ever closing net on Detective Hoffman, who just so happens to be one of the investigating officers.

The last few instalments have of course still had their inventive death scenes and blood and gore moments, but the series is now more in the domain of horror thriller than the torture porn title it was slapped with when it first started, so is as much about the complicated story, certainly for horror at least, as it is the death scenes, a reason why it has lasted longer than say its brother in blood, Hostel.

As the film races to it conclusion the stakes become higher and what was once black and white becomes shades of grey. The finale had me sitting on the edge of the sofa and although I’d guessed one part of the ending its parlour trickery filled script had me wrong footed.

It’s got gusto and guts aplenty, especially for a part VI of a series, there is clearly more blood yet to be pumped from it. There’s no surprise that each section of this filmic puzzle is so deftly held together as it is helmed by the editor of Saw I – V, Kevin Greutert, whose work should be applauded and is certainly the series’ best instalment after the original.

Saw is still firmly the duracell battery of horror franchises. Krueger and Vorhees et al may have kept going and going (the less said about Pinhead the better) but all ran out of steam long before the films stopped being made, as long as these keep being inventive and reinventing itself long may Jigsaw continue playing his games and roll on Halloween 2010!

4/5

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