Oct. 28, 2009 12:00

There will be blood, but no scares, in sixth Saw

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Before it has even dispensed with the opening credits, Saw VI treats its audience to the sight of two characters forced to cut away at the meatiest parts of their own bodies.

In any other film, such a spectacle might be horrifying. After an improbable five Saw movies, it’s just boring. A pound of flesh yields diminishing returns.

That’s the story for much of this soggy retread, the second Saw since the franchise’s central character — Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw killer — moved on to that dank, abandoned warehouse in the sky. Nevertheless, a certain strain of moviegoer continues to demand this tripe (Saw VII and VIII are currently in development, and no, I’m not kidding), so a-carvin’ we must go.

Saw VI sticks to the formula faithfully, though it does try to tap into a bit of populist rage by turning the tables on soulless insurance company hacks. How timely! Is there anyone Americans would rather see flayed than a bureaucrat who hands a cancer patient a death sentence by revoking his coverage?

William (Peter Outerbridge) is one such bureaucrat, and through one of Saw VI’s 500 flashbacks, we learn that a few years ago, he made the fatal error of denying a potentially life-saving procedure for terminally ill John Kramer, AKA Jigsaw. The dead may one day pass judgment on the living, Kramer told him when last they met. Sure enough, with the help of a few trusted acolytes and a ridiculous amount of planning, the rotting corpse of Jigsaw spends Saw VI wrapping its claws around William’s throat.

But forget the plot — if you lay your money down, you want to see that delicious, delicious torture. You’ll be pleased to know that Saw VI delivers exactly what you’ve come to expect: a lot of huffy moralizing wrapped in a throbbing, bloody package. The puzzles are as convoluted as ever, and the very definition of overkill (ever wonder what might happen if a person were injected with hydrofluoric acid via 100 separate syringes? The film speculates on your behalf). The victims are just petty and mean enough in their day-to-day lives to make their brutal deaths palatable. Director Kevin Greutert, in keeping with series tradition, shoots these scenes in careful detail; everything else barely reaches the level of a CSI knockoff.

The series is still — the strangely harrowing Bell excepted — where bad actors go to die violently. Nothing here quite matches the legendary emoting of Cary Elwes in the original, but Costas Mandylor is unintentionally funny as Jigsaw’s main successor, his stiff intensity highlighting the silliness of the entire affair. There’s also the usual bevy of interchangeable robots that fill out Saw’s female roles, each of them awful in her own way (the frequently expressionless Betsy Russell, playing Jigsaw’s widow, might be the worst of the worst).

The latest Saw is not unique, but the recent nationwide release of Paranormal Activity offers a stark contrast that the previous installments haven’t had to endure.

This year, creator/producer James Wan’s grist mill has to compete with a horror movie that is genuinely frightening, which underscores the main problem with the Saw franchise as a whole: It might be gross, but it’s not even a little bit scary.

To comment on this article, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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