“Hello. I want to play a game.”
Like the Beatles used to sing, when Jigsaw says hello, most folks are about to say goodbye. Jigsaw might very well be dead, but his legacy is alive and thriving. If you don’t know who Jigsaw is by now, this might not be the best place to start. He’s the Rube Goldberg of horror movies. He develops sinister contraptions and traps that force people to confront something immoral within themselves. The traps aren’t necessarily intended to kill. In fact, some do survive. They are intended to force the victim fight for their life in a twisted attempt to get them to appreciate it more. There are five previous films you can turn to to get up to speed. Jigsaw and the entire Saw franchise might be somewhat of an acquired taste. But those of us who have acquired it are often eager for more.
“The devices on your head are symbolic of the shackles that you place upon others. You recklessly loan people money knowing their financial limitations, counting on repossessing more than they could ever pay back. You are predators, but today you become the prey. And it is your own pound of flesh I demand.”
Over the Halloween season I picked up the first 5 Saw films at a used place here in town on Blu-ray. It was my first experience with the films in that format. It turned out to be good preparation for reviewing this the latest entry in the horror franchise. Unfortunately, Lionsgate did not see fit to send me a Blu-ray of the film, so my experience wasn’t quite as enjoyable as I hoped it would be. But, since I missed this one at he box office, I was eager for any chance to see what the dearly departed Jigsaw had up his sleeve this time.
“The scale before you is your only path to freedom. However, only one of you may pass. And, the toll is the ultimate sacrifice: The sacrifice of flesh. Before you are the instruments to exact this flesh. Move with haste, though, for when the 60 second timer hits zero, the one who has given the most flesh will release their bindings, while the gears on your opponent’s head will engage, piercing the skull. Who will offer the most flesh to save their life?”
That’s how it always starts. You wake up and find yourself bound by some strange contraption. A video monitor comes to life, and Jigsaw explains first why you are here and what you must do to survive. In the film’s opening trap the two victims must cut away pieces of themselves and place these pieces on a scale. After one minute the one with the most weight gets to leave. The other dies. After the traditional opening trap plays out we move into the … meat, if you will, of the story.
The film picks up where the last one left off. Detective Hoffman (Mandylor) has eluded discovery and escaped the latest of the Jigsaw traps. Jigsaw has left a box with 6 envelopes of instructions to carry on his work. Hoffman has 5 of them, while Jigsaw’s widow Jill (Russell) has a game of her own in mind.
William Easton (Overbridge) is the CEO of Umbrella Insurance, an obvious poke at Travelers. Their motto is coverage you can believe in. But William has a team that looks over every policy, every claim to find loopholes to deny coverage. For example: a guy with a new heart condition is denied coverage because he failed to disclose that 30 years ago he had oral surgery. Now he’s getting dropped and ultimately dies. This is the kind of action that gets Jigsaw involved in the health care debate. He’s got a little filibuster of his own going from beyond the grave. With Hoffman’s help, his last wishes are played out and William is placed in a series of trials involving his staff and deciding who lives and who dies. Hoffman is playing his game while the feds might be moving closer to discovering that he’s carrying on the Jigsaw murders. While this is the focus of the new movie, Jill is playing a game of her own.
While it helps to have seen the other films, it is not completely necessary. The movie works just fine on its own. There are plenty of flashbacks to fill in the missing … pieces. Some are taken from the earlier films, but many are new scenes filmed to give us necessary information. The traps and style of the original films remain and are really what the series is about. This movie can be enjoyed by itself, but not as much as it can be if you’ve seen the others.
Tobin Bell returns as Jigsaw, mostly in flashbacks and recordings, of course, because he’s dead. This is not a supernatural horror film, so we can expect him to actually stay dead. That doesn’t mean that his work can’t continue through Hoffman or eventually someone else. Tobin’s close association to the franchise has allowed it all to stay so neatly tied together even through many different producers and directors. He really has become synonymous with the character. He has the freedom to change his dialog, and apparently often does. He has been given pretty much the power to protect the character and the franchise, and it shows. We get more of Shawnee Smith back as Amanda, and Costas Mandylor returns as Hoffman. Betsy Russell is coming alive as Jill, and I expect her to play and even larger part in future films. It all adds up to an uncommon continuity and quality over such a large number of films.
Saw VI is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. I have to admit that much of my feelings about quality here are influenced by my recent marathon of Saw in high definition. It’s a little harder these days to accept the compression artifact that absolutely messes with the necessary black levels. Detail is lost and the experience is lessoned. For a standard DVD watched using upconvert, this image only appears passable. I suspect Lionsgate would have been better off to offer Blu-rays here. There is not enough shadow detail. Colors are good, but this is a dark and gritty-looking film, so nothing is ever bright. It’s comparable with the others and sports about a 5 mbps bit rate.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track suffers less in the standard DVD format. The surrounds work well enough to supply a creepy atmosphere. Most of the traps occur in dilapidated industrial conditions. There are metallic sounds and lots of creaking to fill the surrounds with enough subtle reminders of where we are. Dialog is perfect, and the score blends in seamlessly enough like all good scores should.
There are two Audio Commentary tracks to choose from here. The first features producers Mark Berg, Peter Block and Jason Constantine. This track really ties in the whole franchise of films, and they speak in a voice that treats the franchise in its entirety. A good one to try if you’re starting with this film. The second track includes first-time Saw director Kevin Greutert and writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. Because these guys are really focused on this one film, it is the more directly related to what you’re actually seeing on screen. They talk about how they attempted to build on the franchise style.
You get a copy of the first film here. Not any help to fans, but nice for those just entering the world of Saw.
The Traps Of Saw VI: (8:50) In what has become a tradition for these releases you get a good look at each of the traps here. You get to see how they are worked and see them being constructed.
Jigsaw Revealed: (6:02) Tobin Bell joins others in providing a very nice profile of the Jigsaw character. The piece examines his complete evolution over all of the films to date.
A Killer Maze: (10:40) Universal Hollywood included an interactive Saw experience in their Horror Nights. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it here in Florida. Maybe next year. This piece looks at the design and construction of the attraction.
Music Video: You get Mushroomheads Your Soul Is Mine, MMF’s Ghost In The Mirror, Hatebreeds’ In Ashes Thy Shall Reap, and Suicide Silence’s Genocide.
There are many who say the films have lost their way. I’m not one of them. Of course, nothing is ever quite as clever or novel after the first time. But I believe the series still works quite well. The traps are just as ingenious as ever. There might be too many headtraps, but it appears those are the most popular. I actually like the evolution to a maze of traps that the last two films have perfected. It allows us to get to know and, possibly care, about the victims a little bit more. This is still a thinking man’s horror film, even if it does really ride the torture porn wave that the original film helped to establish. Try to put away your stuffiness for 90 minutes, and I think you’ll find the films as enjoyable as ever. I’m just not ready to say, “Game over”.