"Saw" was never a franchise that was designed to last. The first film made a point of killing off every main character save one who was already dying of an inoperable brain tumor. But, when a movie grosses 100 times its budget filmmakers tend to find untapped wells of ingenuity.
"Saw VI" tells a story that is almost certainly incomprehensible to those who have not seen the previous five films. The entire plot hinges on the reveal of an element first introduced in "Saw III" and details the rise of a character who made his debut as a glorified extra. The entire twist ending is predicated upon one's memory of a secondary character who is never even on screen during this feature except during a brief flashback. It's some straight up "Star Trek" level minutia.
Because of this, a plot summary is useless. You either know what to expect, in which case it is best to see the movie completely cold, or you've already determined that you don't care. Suffice it to say, John "Jigsaw" Kramer and Amanda Young are still dead, (as they have been since part three) and Agent Hoffman is still on the loose, trying to teach more people to appreciate life. Then things get complicated.
"Saw" has always worked under a strange moral code, espousing a bizarre brand of carpe diem philosophy spoken by serial killer who seems to think that he is saving people by throwing them in pits of used needles or forcing them to cut off their feet. This philosophy has long been an albatross for the series because Jigsaw's ideas are, to put it bluntly, completely idiotic. The result of these tests would likely be a crippling case of post-traumatic stress disorder, not a moment of truth.
"Saw VI" works hard to solve this problem. For the first time in series history Jigsaw is shown to be maybe the slightest bit mentally unsound. This is a small but important step as the series makes infinitely more sense and is far more chilling if Jigsaw is taken as a David Berkowitz type instead of some sort of blood and guts Buddha. Simultaneous to this, the filmmakers have finally created a cast of victims who might well deserve their fate. Thinking back, it's actually quite surprising that it took five sequels to get to a trap where loan sharks are forced to contend with Shylock's infamous demand of "A pound of Flesh".
While many have anticipated a jump to the supernatural for several entries, few if any guessed that Saw would ever become a political story. You see, "Saw VI" is just as much about the current healthcare reform debate as it is about soap opera plot twists. In one scene Jigsaw literally says the words "Medical decisions should be made by Doctors and patients" before going on to equate HMO's with murderous thugs. And while the political polemic elements are perhaps a bit overcooked, they do imply a level of effort on the part of the filmmakers that goes beyond the call of duty. The social consciousness of Jason Voorhees' sixth outing began and ended with a happy face symbol made of blood.
Longtime series editor Kevin Greutert moves to the director's chair for this entry and his experience with the franchise shines through. He has clearly been planning for this opportunity for quite some time, and he makes the most of it, combining the indie grunge of the original with the flashy scene transitions of the sequels all while expanding the color palette, steadying the ADHD afflicted cinematography and toning down the ultra-violence.. This is almost certainly the best looking part six the horror genre has ever seen. Keeping pace with the direction is a slick, fast, and occasionally inventive screenplay by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, who handedly outdo their work on the previous two films.
Everything that was wrong with the five previous films is still wrong here. The sets still look like those of a movie made for about a million dollars, the actors are mostly second rate and the logic is tenuous within a real world scenario. The dialogue is occasionally as cringe inducing as the gory set pieces and the script makes excessive use of expository tape recordings in place of legitimate character development. And yet, I had a damn good time.
This film is easily the best since part two, and somehow actually made me want to see part seven. For those already invested in the series "Saw VI" is a Halloween treat. It's smarter than the previous three and it features some of the series most interesting traps. It even gives you a little something to talk about after the credits roll. Most will hate it sight unseen, but those who show up to watch, "Saw VI" is better than it has any right to be.