Flashback Review: ‘Saw V’ and ‘Saw VI’
The following review contains spoilers for V saw and Saw VI. Click here for our spoiler review of Saw IV.
Saw IV had the insurmountable task of following a movie where the franchise killer died. While he stumbled quite a bit to get there, Darren Lynn Bousman’s third fight with the franchise managed to establish a new status quo. “Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is Jigsaw’s new killer, get used to it” Lionsgate practically yells at the end of this movie. Although for this to really hold up, they have to keep their promise. Give us a puzzle worth following. V saw and Saw VI do that and then a few, making them two of my personal favorites in the franchise.
By the time Saw IV ended, its schedule threatened to reach critical mass. Yes, that’s part of the call, but it was time to take a break. By promoting serial production designer David Hackl to director, V saw receives new blood in a successful entryway primarily due to its narrow simplicity.
There is a main game, and it’s pretty solid. Five aliens find themselves in the clutches of another House of Horrors run by Jigsaw, subjecting them to a series of tests that will cause them to spill blood in order to prove their dignity to live. The focal point of their game – the revelation that all of their tests were winnable if they had worked together – is new. Especially when it is realized too late by the two survivors Mallick (Greg Byrk) and Brit (Julie Benz), who must shed an amount of blood intended for five people.
The connection between them, that they were all involved in a building insurance scam arson, is also sharp, but superficial. And that goes for most of the game. Most traps are simplistic machines with blades attached. The players are not particularly sympathetic. It’s there because we need to have a game going to build up the tension for the main story.
Fortunately, the main story is a lot of fun. It all starts with Detective Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) with his head trapped in a glass box by the Jigsaw Killer, slowly filling with water. To escape he stabs a pen in his windpipe so he can breathe. Such a quick reaction shows that it was no ordinary man who stood up against Jigsaw. It is a hunter who will catches its prey.
Therefore V saw follows a thrilling cat-and-mouse game between Strahm and Mark Hoffman as the latter attempts to cover his tracks. If John Kramer could be compared to the Riddler, Hoffman would look more like Bane; a dead-eyed brute with a tactical mind. Costas Mandylor’s performance is much closer to a traditional slasher villain, but that’s a bit of the point. It is terrifying, over the top, and supremely observable.
Mandylor really has time to shine in lengthy flashback sequences with John Kramer (Tobin Bell). We’ve seen Apprentice Jigsaw reveal twice at this point. Yet we have never seen the actual training of one of the apprentices. The always charming Kramer turns Mark Hoffman’s misplaced anger into a dark angel of justice. It’s fascinating as hell, with bonus points to show that Hoffman is the one who put the man from the first movie in the razor wire trap (he was the man who killed Hoffman’s sister).
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Meanwhile, Strahm is your typical hardened cop protagonist. It doesn’t matter much, however, as Patterson injects pure ham into his performance. It is a perfectly competent counterpart of the Hoffman puzzle. When the two collide it leads to one of the most polarizing moments of all. Seen. Jigsaw leads Strahmn to a lair with a box full of broken glass. He was told he had to trust Jigsaw to survive and get into the box. Instead, he throws Hoffman in the box. The box goes underground as the room caves over Strahm, with plenty of evidence planted by Hoffman that Strahm is Jigsaw’s killer. Hoffman lives to kill again. Is it the anti-twist, and maybe also a brilliant representation of the film?
V saw is not necessarily special. He takes up the classic rhythms of cop dramas and refuses to embark on the twists and turns of his predecessors. But it’s so much fun. The conspiracy ethic of the “nothing unnecessary” of the first three films makes a triumphant return, as Mark Hoffman becomes a worthy successor. What V saw is to establish that there is plenty of gas left in a franchise that seemed to have run out of steam a long time ago.
When it comes to the Seen franchise as a whole, few people have helped define its aesthetic as Kevin Greutert. His glitchy editing style is key to the pace that makes the first five films so easy (and uncomfortable). So when he was chosen to do Saw VI his debut as a director, he was sure it would be a solid entry into this series. But no. He couldn’t be satisfied with that. Saw VI isn’t just the best the franchise has to offer, it’s my personal pick for the best horror movie of the 2000s.
Saw VI serves as the culmination of the previous five films. A culmination, if you will, to an increasingly epic saga with each entry. This goal becomes evident early on in Hoffman’s plot. Hoffman is scrambling more than ever to cover his tracks after the events of V saw. He enlists John Kramer’s ex-wife Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell) to help him make a game that was very important to John. However, the walls continue to close as Hoffman’s department grows increasingly suspicious of Strahm’s reality as Jigsaw’s killer.
Costas Mandylor becomes a full-fledged movie monster in this area. His attempts to escape justice turn desperate. He must then transform into something truly ruthless. Hoffman’s character is so interesting because he’s sort of a failed John Kramer project. The bastard experience that undermines Jigsaw’s legacy. He will stoop to such shallow depths to protect himself. A good example of this is the revelation that he blackmailed Amanda Young into killing Lynne in Saw III, threatening to reveal that she was partly responsible for Jill Tuck’s miscarriage.
For once, the game and the mystery work perfectly in tandem. The game this time involves William Easton (Peter Outerbridge), a shady insurance executive who once denied John Kramer and many others before him coverage. He and several who work in his company are placed in an abandoned zoo. Easton, who was previously considered “worthy of living”, must make choices between who deserves to live in every game he has given. In addition, saving lives often requires huge sacrifices for Easton.
Ironically, it’s rare to see Jigsaw games players learn a lesson. Easton dispels this notion. For every grueling choice, her physical and emotional scars are bare. Easton, initially unfriendly, becomes sympathetic due to the impossible situations he has to smell. And these situations involve some of the best traps in the series. The best deserves his: the carousel.
Hoo boy, the carousel. Easton watches as his compatriots are strapped to a carousel, shotguns pointed at each of their heads. The craft will stop at random, allowing it to save two of the six people. What’s not so terrible isn’t the shotgun shots themselves (although these are rightly gory). It is the howls of agony and curses that subjects make to discover that they have not been chosen. Unfailing misery and punishment for William Easton, and Outerbridge sells that pain. No trap in the series can match the effectiveness of this one.
And even after learning his lesson, Easton is at the mercy of someone else: in the turn of this game, the family we looked at earlier and assumed to be Easton’s were actually family. of a deceased man to whom he had refused coverage. They have a choice and choose to kill Easton via a spike wall that puts hydrochloric acid directly into his body. He dissolves, much to the horror of the family.
The games in Seen often have items hit or missed. So it’s exciting to see one where not only are all the traps strike, but where the cost of human living is so stressed, and the macabre of death so capitalized on. Message predatory insurance companies playing god with their decisions and you’ve got a game that properly takes center stage.
That’s not to say that Hoffman’s storyline gets nowhere. In fact, it has the best ending of the whole series. Hoffman, after killing everyone in the department who learns about his role as Jigsaw, is confronted by Jill Tuck. It turns out that Hoffman was part of a posthumous test to see if he is worthy of John Kramer, directed by Jill. He failed, resoundingly, so Tuck sets him the iconic inverted bear trap. “Hello Zepp” plays, we get a cut, and Jill says “Game Over” because all of the previous statements in that line are shown from the previous movies. Hoffman is finally taken care of.
Or is it the case? Hoffman slams the trap into the metal bars in the room he is in. After the bars stop their full activation, he brutally cuts his own face out of the trap, screaming into the camera as blood gushes from his wound. He is the last remnant of Jigsaw’s legacy and a depraved abomination of it. But he doesn’t want to be knocked out so easily. He will die hard. And this franchise too.
Saw VI is a challenge to the idea of diminishing returns from suites. Defying the simplicity of the previous film. Defiant to let the traps play in the background. It’s the crown jewel of a franchise that doesn’t get enough credit. This brings five previous films to an explosive climax that promises a hell of a finale. Whether or not this happens is irrelevant. Saw VI delivered on the promise of a story that had been building for more than five years at this point. It’s a bloody horror soap opera. What more could you ask for? –James preston poole
V saw and Saw VI are both available in digital HD, home video, and streaming on HBO Max.