"Do you like how brutality feels, Mark?" Jigsaw asks his apprentice. But it's a question more accurately aimed at moviegoers who have made Saw the flagship franchise for "torture porn."
It’s pretty simple really: If John Kramer, aka the trap-happy serial killer Jigsaw, sits down across the desk from you and asks for more insurance to cover an experimental cancer procedure, well, it would be a good idea to say yes.
But William Easton, a vice president at Umbrella Health (and the arrogant creator of the risk algorithms that have denied many suffering folks insurance they desperately need) says no.
That proves to be a painful miscalculation.
Saw VI revolves around Jigsaw—from the grave—exacting his bloody vengeance on Easton (and a group of his equally cocky, greedy insurance cohorts). This time around, Jigsaw moves the pawns in his bloodletting "game" through two still-breathing agents of his retributive will: his surviving wife, Jill Tuck, and FBI agent Mark Hoffman.
After being kidnapped, Easton is forced to make his way through a series of dank rooms and cages at an abandoned zoo. His task? Deciding which of his booby-trapped co-workers should live and which should die—just as he decided who lived and who died as a health insurance provider, Jigsaw reminds him.
And if Easton fails to make it through Jigsaw’s murderous maze in 90 minutes? His arms and legs will get blown off by explosives and his wife and son will be killed too.
Easton’s horror mounts—along with the body count—as Hoffman grimly grinds the gears of Jigsaw’s demented contraptions.
Just as in every other installment in this franchise, we’re meant to believe that Jigsaw’s horrific punishment of his victims is because they don’t appreciate the good things they have in life.
Only part of that is positive, of course. Valuing life: good. Horrific punishments for not valuing life: bad.
Jill has a vision of her deceased husband in which he lectures her about the drug addicts she works with. He tells her, "These people have no respect for the lives they’re destroying." Later he says that a 52-year-old janitor who keeps smoking despite his high blood pressure has "no appreciation for life."
The victims of Jigsaw’s traps hail from two sectors of the economy that have been in the news a lot as of late: insurance and real estate. The film rightly suggests that when greedy people in these industries act in fraudulent, self-serving ways, innocent people suffer.
Even in death, Jigsaw exercises something akin to godlike power over the fate of his victims (an idea I’ll return to in my conclusion). One character, for instance, says of his plan, "This is John’s will." God is never mentioned directly (apart from the many abuses of His name), but the spiritual themes of judgment, forgiveness and mercy come up in several conversations.
Talking with Easton, Jigsaw also gets at the idea that we’re not, in the end, masters of our own fate. Jigsaw tells him, "You think it’s the living who have ultimate judgment over you, because the dead have no claim over your soul. But you may be mistaken."
One person chooses to kill another and says, "Now you burn in hell."
Several women wear tight tops; one reveals cleavage. Easton flirts with a company lawyer, perhaps implying that the two are having an affair.
I’ve somehow managed to avoid a Saw assignment up ’til now, so I paged through Plugged In’s previous reviews for reference. I wasn’t surprised that much of what we’ve said about the carnage in the previous five installments applies equally here.
Marcus Yoars said of Saw II: "The film’s sick fascination with creative ways to suffer and die just goes on and on."
Steven Isaac’s review of Saw III added, "There is no end to the ways in which [these] movies can show people being mangled, lacerated, dissected, brutalized … and murdered."
Paul Asay wrote, "Simply put, Saw IV’s reason for being is to depict torture and mutilation as graphically, grossly and realistically as possible—nothing more."
Check. Check. And check. These are all accurate summaries of the grisly proceedings in this sixth installment.
The opening scene is among the film’s most graphic, with two avaricious real estate agents being instructed to give "a pound of flesh" in a ghastly competition to see who can cut more weight off their bodies as atonement for their greed. An overweight man lobs off quite a bit of his midsection, while a skinny woman looks at her tiny tummy with despair … then hacks off an arm at the elbow with an ax. She’s the "winner." The loser’s punishment? Drilled holes in his skull.
Once Jigsaw’s game with Easton gets underway, Saw VI gets down to the base business of exploring a variety of ways to dispatch captive victims. Two men get crushed between concrete wedges (one fatally). Another is smashed and shredded in a compactor of sorts. (We see what’s left of his unrecognizable entrails.) Close-up camera work shows assorted pieces of flesh that have been removed from various victims. Easton has to choose between two employees who are standing on separate gallows with barbed wire nooses around their necks. Two people are burned badly by steam. One of Easton’s co-workers attacks him with a radial saw before a timed explosion launches projectiles into her brain.
A drawn-out scene involves the insurance executive choosing two people out of six to survive a merry-go-round death contraption involving an automated shotgun; accordingly, four receive life-ending blasts to the chest. And saving the two people involves Easton’s hands being impaled.
Easton ultimately faces the mother and son of a man who died because Easton revoked his insurance. The mother chooses not to kill him, but the adolescent son pulls a switch that injects Easton with perhaps fifty syringes full of hydrochloric acid, which (onscreen) dissolves his body from the inside out.
Hoffman slits an FBI agent’s throat, shoots another and repeatedly stabs a third. Extracting himself from a bear trap contraption, Hoffman horribly tears up his face.
Crude or Profane Language
About 50 f-words, at least eight s-words, and well over a dozen misuses of Christ’s and God’s names. We hear a crude reference to the female anatomy.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Wine is consumed. Easton pours himself a glass of hard liquor in his office. In the dream-like vision Jill has, Jigsaw tells her that the methadone center she works at doesn’t help the addicts who come there for treatment but only masks and numbs their addiction, impeding any real chance at recovery and healing.
Other Negative Elements
Jigsaw is driven by the twisted conviction that people can only really change if they come face to face with death and survive. "Once you see death up close," he tells Jill, "Then you know what the value of life is. That’s my way." He tells Easton, "Until a person is faced with death, it is impossible to tell if they have what it takes to survive."
Hoffman goes to great lengths to make it look as if a deceased FBI agent is actually the one responsible for the Jigsaw murders.
Another October, another Saw movie.
First-time Saw director Kevin Greutert (who edited the five other installments) remains true to the franchise’s predictably grisly formula. Tricks. Traps. Blood. No-win life-and-death choices. More blood. Roll credits.
Indeed, the Saw franchise has become infamous for the way it has lowered the bar when it comes to gratuitous violence. Before Saw’s debut in 2004, the term "torture porn" didn’t exist. Now, Saw is the poster franchise for a genre of films whose sole reason for existence is to push the mutilation envelope.
This series makes no bones (or should I say it does make bones?) about the fact that bad people deserve judgment, violently exploiting the idea of vigilante justice in the name of entertainment. It also serves up heaping helpings of Jigsaw’s warped God complex.
From cover to cover, the Bible clearly communicates that we are all accountable to God for our choices. As Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death." And that’s a reality Jigsaw understands all too well. What he doesn’t understand or even begin to contemplate is the fact that the verse doesn’t end there. The Apostle Paul goes on to say, "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Jigsaw acts as if he’s God, coolly assuming the role of judge, jury and executioner—even from the grave. He gives lip service at times to the ideas of mercy, forgiveness and redemption. But he has little real interest in any of those spiritual ideals.
Just like fans of the Saw movies have little real interest in listening to why it’s such a bad deal to buy into a character who delights in twisting the life out of … everything. They’re just there for the brutal thrill ride.
In a recent article in the Catholic journal First Things, David P. Goldman writes, "Many things might explain the vast new market for uncanny evil. If you do not believe in God, you will believe in anything, to misquote G.K. Chesterton; and, one might add, if you do not feel God’s presence, you will become desperate to feel anything at all. Terror and horror create at least some kind of feeling. After pornography has jaded the capacity to feel pleasure, what remains is the capacity to feel fear and pain."
"Do you like how brutality feels, Mark?" Jigsaw asks Hoffman. Well, do you, movie fans?