Saw VI Review
There have been a few hours of gore-drenched, sinew-stretching, bone-snapping, limb-tearing, ultra-torture action since demented serial killer John “Jigsaw” Kramer finished dealing out his own brand of twisted justice to his terrified victims, and passed away in appropriately gruesome fashion. Yet this hasn't stemmed the dark, crimson tide of violence posthumously meted out in his name; well, when a movie franchise is proving this successful, why let such pesky plot details stand in the way of another instalment?
Kevin Greutert, editor of the previous five episodes, is promoted to directorial duties in this sixth slot, and acquits himself well with a slick and well constructed production that provides truckloads of blood n' guts for ardent fans of the gruesome series. The problem is, for all of the quality of presentation, the production team are up against some enormous challenges; not only did Jigsaw meet his fate a few episodes ago, but new viewers need to be brought up to speed via the use of flashbacks, and the new episode has to push hard to generate further interest due to the tried and tested formula that, whilst being a strong part of the series' success, also has an incarcerating effect, constraining as much as the elaborate traps that Jigsaw and his cohorts build for his hapless and helpless victims.
Where Saw VI proves itself to have a little stronger mettle than the previous sequels (the movie that kicked off the series certainly didn't need to prove anything – it was simply a great horror film in its own right), other than the vastly accelerated gore and torture sequences, is with the introduction of some politically conscious themes, which provide a much needed new angle. The main plot theme surrounds a successful medical insurance executive, William Easton, who thrives on running a team that find loopholes to deny sick people legitimate claims. Of course, this irks Jigsaw's sensitive sense of justice, and it's not long before William finds himself immersed in a series of gruesome and horrifying games that push all boundaries way beyond any horror previously experienced. The theme does prove poignant, with America's ongoing medical system crisis, and another political theme introduced surrounds the recession, in the form of those who have profited from irresponsible lending. Whilst their punishment is clearly somewhat extreme, the method is designed to strike a chord with the sensibilities of the down-turned country.
Other techniques to pique viewer interest include further explorations about the method of constructing the games, and further character development of John Kramer and his motives. Of course, it's sequel law that the gore quotient needs to increase exponentially, but these other techniques, whilst proving more satisfying than, say, the accelerated campiness and humour demonstrated in the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, do prove far less effective than the mystery and intrigue of the original. The series has managed to retain some sort of grisly credibility thanks to the admittedly well executed and imaginative horror and torture, but I can't help but think back to the original movie, and how far detached these new instalments have become.
The performances are a little inconsistent; where Tobin Bell plays the smug and superior serial killer (in flashbacks) John Kramer with typically confident and assured manner, there are occasions where the acting seems a little uncertain and forced. That said, attractive “scream queen” Tanedra Howard, a newbie to the scene and still working in “Hooters” according to the directorial commentary, is excellent in the agonising and thrilling opening sequence, and is a name to watch out for – especially since she is rumoured to appear in the next instalment, Saw VII.
Saw VI will doubtless delight diehard Saw fans and gorehounds, and there is plenty of film-making quality on offer here. The reliance upon flashbacks, increasingly demanding plot nuances that segue from Saw's gone-by, and the tried and tested formulaic structure mean that Saw VI, with its series of elaborately constructed torture and death scenes strung together by increasingly tenuous plots by people with increasingly tenuous vindication, provides further evidence that the Jigsaw inspired blood-shedding cannot be strung out indefinitely, whilst maintaining the appropriate level of quality.
Wanna play a game? This time, yes, but can we stomach many more?
The disc is delivered with region code B for Europe, Africa, southwest Asia and Australia/New Zealand. The aspect ratio is 1.78:1, and the presentation is 1080p, so the scan results in a good quality delivery.
The movie file size is 17.3 Gb, with the entire disc constituting just over 22 Gb of data. The encoding is MPEG 4 AVC, with a frame rate of 23.98.
The transfer is good, with clean and noiseless images, and the blacks that dominate the perpetually murky and dank atmosphere are transmitted with appropriate depth and solidity. Other colours are strong, and the vivid red bloods work well in stark contrast to the gloom that surrounds them.
There are some minor gripes however. Whilst the definition between the blood reds and the gloomy backdrops are strong, and whilst the carefully constructed death and torture “game” scenes enjoy good definition, some other scenes raise a few questions. The scene where the lead role, medical insurance department head William Easton, is in his plush office as evening falls, sees the crisp image begin to weaken slightly as the definition fades with the multitude of greys and darks.
The largest failing is during the scene where Detective Hoffman is confronted with the truth whilst he meets with his boss, an FBI voice analysis expert, and Agent Perez. As he turns to a semi-profile shot and his face adopts some strong greys, the shades almost seem to demonstrate pixilation; it certainly spoils that particular moment, but disbelief is soon re-suspended as the action begins again.
There are English subtitles for the hard of hearing.
The Blu-ray is released with a clutch of short but interesting featurettes to accompany the movie itself and provide a little respite from the grisly atmosphere of the main feature.
The Traps of Saw VI is a sensible choice for the first featurette, since the traps and “games” form the “meat” of the series and maintain the appropriate salivation level for the ever-bloodthirsty audience. We are leant the opportunity to see the construction of the impressive and elaborate effects that provide us with the highly visceral viewing experience, and it’s almost something of a relief to see the actors that had previously been chopped, stabbed, burnt and severed, back in one piece. At almost nine minutes though, we’re almost left wanting more.
Even shorter is the Jigsaw Revealed featurette. Since “Jigsaw” himself, despite his shuffling off this mortal coil quite some time ago, has become the central interest in the film series (as opposed to the first, and best, movie, where he was an important element but more balanced across the unfolding story), it’s useful to see how those involved in making the film perceive his considerable character development. What’s really revealing is the level of “steer” that actor Tobin Bell – Jigsaw – has on the character’s performance. Tobin inputs into the script, reporting where he believes Jigsaw’s lines are wrong or could be improved, and immerses himself in the production of the movie. It’s telling to see Tobin talk about how he will continue to develop the character in future instalments; don’t think this is over yet, kids. Six minutes is plenty long enough here.
The final featurette, A Killer Maze- Making SAW: Game Over, is a ten minute look at the construction of the “Saw: Game Over” event, where the Saw series is manifested in a walk-through event for fright-obsessed fans. The event is almost as elaborate as the scenes within the movie itself, and is reflective of different moments throughout the series. With this event in the states, and the Saw ride at Thorpe Park in the UK, it’s easy to see why the Saw franchise machine just keeps on churning out the blood and guts every year.
Commentary is well provided for. Firstly, you can select “Producer” commentary, which features a panel of four producers including Peter Block and Mark Burg. It’s illuminating to receive the producers’ view of the film, and we are even treated to a little producer-style humour, which is of the fairly dry variety. Especially insightful is the discussion of director choice, since long time Director (episodes II to IV) Darren Lynn Bousman moved on to create Repo and David Hackl (Saw V) passed the reigns over to long time editor Kevin Greutert. All directors have the full support of the team, however, and much is made of the Saw “Family”.
Far more relaxed, jovial, and engaging is the director and writer commentary, which features director Kevin Greutert and writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton – the latter two of which nearly didn’t make it to the commentary due to commitments for writing Saw VII – which will apparently be in 3D bloody glory! The discussion is good humoured and enjoyable, and perhaps most interesting is to hear the positioning of the movie in a socio-political context in regards to the US recession and healthcare crisis, something never explored to the same depth in earlier instalments.
The release also includes a pleasingly understated theatrical trailer, which actually invites viewers by showing less, rather than pulling all the major scenes and gluing them together in rapid sequence, as is the way with modern trailers.
There are a handful of music videos to “rock out” to, if that’s your thing.
There’s also some sort of iPhone app that you can download, but I can’t report on the value of this feature, since I don’t have an iPhone to test it on.
Audio is presented in 7.1 DTS-HD MA. The dark and gloomy soundtrack is projected with adequate clarity, and the action scenes certainly benefit from confident thuds and bangs.
The only real issue is that some of the levels seem to have too high a differential. For instance, you can sometimes be straining to hear the dialogue, then feel yourself blown away by one of the action sequences. Whilst the contrast between levels is important for the dramatic impact, the difference between them can sometimes feel overawing.
Saw VI is a well executed and grisly entry into the series that will certainly please the diehard fans, with its adherence to the tried and tested structure, liberal dosage of the staple elements of violence and gore, and the introduction of some interesting social and political themes. The extras aren’t as plentiful or lengthy as they could be, but do provide a semi-satisfying accompaniment to the main feature. Saw VII will soon thrust itself onto our screens in a rude and crude avalanche of viscera in new 3D format, but it seems hard to imagine, with Jigsaw long dead and his links with other characters becoming more and more tenuous, how much longer this successful horror series can be stretched out.
For the moment, though, Saw VI ups the gore ante sufficiently to maintain the interest for those of a gore-loving proclivity.