It’s not just a matter of being pleasantly surprised by low expectations, either. Gone are the ludicrous plot devices, the endless retconing that kept re-writing the Jigsaw mythos, the need to build towards some hackneyed twist. What remains is a tightly wound story that keeps the Jigsaw tradition alive without the need to jump through holes in space and time just to keep Tobin Bell in the picture. Sure, the gore is still there and Jigsaw still does show up in flashbacks, but the script Dunstan and Melton have written is the most restrained, linear, goal-driven backbone the series has ever had. And though director Kevin Greutert, who has edited every single one of the prior SAW entries, has kept the staple spinning camera and boiler room lighting, his film also has more mature aspirations towards showing the ‘big picture’ of each trap, building tension by anticipation; as opposed to the last few films that were overflowing with surprises to the point of absurdity.
Basically, if you had written the series off, as I had, you’re going to be shocked at how solid of a film SAW 6 is. The script may be a little too topical for some, as this time around the story follows the journey of a man, William (Peter Outerbridge), who devised a formula for an insurance company to project possible earnings depending on an applicant’s probability to live long enough to pay them a tidy profit, rejecting coverage to those who don’t fit that bill. Jigsaw, who has spent 5 films explaining his twisted philosophy that life should never be taken for granted, has a bit of a problem with this, so he has arranged for William and his complacent staff to make the same kind of life-or-death decisions for each other that they make for complete strangers.
Considering Dunstan/Melton’s script would have been written right before the recent health care reform debate reared its hydra-head highest, it actually doesn’t come off as preachy as one might think reading that synopsis. Save for a sentence or two, there’s no grand accusations that the ‘system’ needs radical changing and that Jigsaw should be Obama’s Torture Reform Czar; rather that the system is merely run by people and some of those people willfully cripple access to health care for profit, passing death sentences to other human beings in the process. This setup finally allows the series to get back to focusing on Jigsaw’s original motivation of forcing people to come face-to-face with the moral dilemma they’ve been too glutinous to confront in the past. That the series has moved on from helpless heroin junkies to greedy office works while still maintaining the same ideology is quite impressive.
For gorehounds the moral quandries of SAW 6 are not nearly as impressive as the gruesome setups, which are some of the best in the series thus far. One still needs to suspend disbelief that any individual (or individuals) could meticulously engineer such intricate traps that never, ever fail to go off with perfect timing, but the kills this time around are all appropriate for the mood of the rest of the movie. Self-mutilation has always been a requisite of the series, but this is the first time that sacrifice plays more of an important part than simply cutting yourself up to get a surgically implanted key or bleeding yourself out into a jug like some kind of twisted game of Double Dare.
Even Costas Mandylor, who has been a big part of the series for a while now, isn’t quite as flat as he used to be. The contrast between himself and Jigsaw has never been so dynamic, which gives the series a new layer I always felt it was lacking in the past. But the show this time around doesn’t belong to Mandylor or even Bell, but Peter Outerbridge as the insurance man dying to change. He is a man on a terrible mission, perfectly striking the balance between greed in the beginning and raw desperation by the end. All the other victims are solid, even if most are only ever required to look like they don’t want to lose a limb, but Outerbridge is easily given the best material to work with. And he’s shaped the best “protagonist” the series has had since Angus Macfadyen in part 3.
Speaking of the previous entries, despite how good of a film SAW 6 is, the others are certainly a required watch before going into it. While the film doesn’t crash between timelines, it does constantly reference things and characters that have been peppered throughout the franchise, so one needs to be at least passingly familiar with them to avoid total sensory overload. Unfortunately that means enduring the complete mess that is 5, but at least SAW 6 is worth it. If Dunstan and Melton are allowed to keep the script as restrained as they’ve now proven they can, I think SAW 6 is going to mark a very welcome turning point for the series. At the very least, it no longer has me dreading the idea of going back to this well 2 or 3 more times.