SAW VI is the film that marks the decline of the SAW franchise. After five films that all build upon each other with compelling storylines, SAW VI is just derivative and exhausted. All forward momentum from the previous films just stalls out, and SAW VI makes it clear that the franchise can’t really escape the death of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell).
The film continues the dual narrative from the previous SAW films. Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) continues to thwart the efforts of the FBI and police as they slowly begin to piece together that Hoffman is Jigsaw’s apprentice. Hoffman’s story intertwines with Jigsaw’s ex-wife, Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), as the two try to carry out Jigsaw’s work while also plotting against each other. Hoffman is meant to be the antagonist to this series in a way that Jigsaw was not. Jigsaw had principles, whereas Hoffman has none. But there’s a mania to Mandylor’s performance as Hoffman that is riveting, leading to an unexpected climax that was fairly surprising.
The Hoffman storyline has hints of greatness – but it is marred by horrible plot developments. Particularly, the film completely destroys the character and motivations of Jill Tuck. Up until SAW VI, Jill has always served as a sidelined character. She’s a woman who works in a free clinic to help those around her, and had to watch as the man she loved withdrew from her after tragedy and became Jigsaw. They were clearly estranged, and yet SAW VI completely undoes all of that. It makes Jill a knowing accomplice to Jigsaw’s reign of terror – and for no reason. It’s such an infuriating plot development, and it’s completely nonsensical. It’s a major disservice to her character, which turns her from being cryptic and enigmatic to an incompetent villain.
Every SAW film also has a storyline that follows a Jigsaw test, and SAW VI is no exception. This test follows Peter (William Easton) as he struggles to choose who lives and dies in each test. This is because Peter works in the health insurance industry, and the film quickly establishes that he’s a slimy guy who will do everything in his power to deny insurance coverage for those who need it most. This film was released in 2009, which was when the Affordable Care Act dominated news coverage – and it shows here. This storyline reeks of opportunism, of cashing in on a popular topic. This takedown of the insurance industry is so heavy handed that it’s almost ridiculous. Peter and all his coworkers are portrayed as such ugly people that no one would root for these characters to survive. When you don’t care for the characters – and you root for them to die – that’s the exact opposite of what the SAW films are about. We want these flawed victims to suffer, perhaps, but ultimately overcome. In SAW VI, we just want them to die.
This film continues to use flashbacks, though they are used very sparingly here. There are a few scenes, particularly meant to flesh out Hoffman’s relationships with Jigsaw, Amanda (Shawnee Smith), and Jill Tuck. It was particularly nice to see Amanda return in flashbacks, as this film answered a key question from SAW III and provided a lot of insight into her character. Tobin Bell continues to be a perfect Jigsaw, but his lack of screen time in SAW VI is a definite disappointment.
There are two twists in SAW VI, one for each storyline. Surprisingly, the twist in Peter’s Jigsaw test was completely unexpected. It’s a very satisfying twist, bringing great closure to an otherwise pointless part of the film. But the actual twist ending that the film, centered around Mark Hoffman… it’s not really even a twist. It’s essentially the same ending that SAW V had, but without any surprise. The film ends with a whimper, and that’s a real first for the series.
SAW VI never gets any traction. It just spins its wheels, doing a great disservice to the characters, the legacy of the franchise, and to the audience. Any film franchise can produce some duds, but SAW VI is a real step down from the films that precede it. What is the most frustrating is that there are kernels of great ideas that flow through the film, but SAW VI squanders those opportunities and instead opts to be more of the same.