This article contains spoilers. Also, it was written before seeing Saw VII, so here goes…
Hurtling towards Saw VII, it has to be said that we don’t seem to be building towards a climax in Saw V or Saw VI. Then again, what the franchise transforms into is a series about how the nasty Jigsaw’s legacy has been taken over by the nastier Hoffman, and how Jigsaw kills people differently to Hoffman. If you’re keeping up, then kudos to you.
There’s more time bending with Saw V, which partly serves as ‘The Secret Origins of Hoffman!’ to the previous instalment’s exploration of original Jigsaw, John Kramer. It opens on a copycat kill perpetrated by Hoffman before he ever met John, as vengeance against his sister’s murderer. Back in the present, Hoffman doesn’t seem perturbed, either by John’s posthumous warning or by Agent Strahm’s investigation getting closer and closer to the truth.
Instead he drops five (geddit?) new victims into a game together, based on their connection to an arson attack that killed eight people. This is by far the least prominent part of Saw V, becoming an ultra-violent police procedural, rather than a horror film.
After four films, the audience is going to have developed a tolerance so great that none of the traps can faze them. That was very much what happened to me when I rewatched all of the series for this retrospective.
In the main game, there is one thing that really deserves special mention. Greg Bryk is my personal selection for the absolute worst actor in the series. Good golly, he’s terrible. He plays Mallick, the guy who set the building alight at the behest of some of his fellow victims, and he’s encumbered with such winning dialogue as “Nobody cared? The families of those eight people cared. The feds cared. Look at my fucking arm. I cared! I cared!” And he delivers lines like that in a similar fashion to Darren Ewing in Troll II. We salute you, Greg Bryk. You’re bloody awful.
Anyhoo, the police drama elements of Saw V wrap up with Hoffman clumsily framing Strahm as Jigsaw’s apprentice, diverting attention away from himself by compressing the hapless FBI agent to death in one of the series’ most elaborate traps. That’s elaborate, not innovative. The series is definitely running on fumes at this stage.
It’s still solely concerned with its own mythology, deploying flashbacks to insert Hoffman into past instalments. Even with the surfeit of material shot for the purpose, you’ll only believe he was there all along if you believed that was real footage of Tom Hanks meeting John F. Kennedy in Forrest Gump. It’s a clumsy retcon, and one which only serves ancillary purposes, like the answer to that burning question of who stole Dr. Gordon’s pen in Saw. Important stuff.
It’s definitely a bit better than Saw IV, in my estimation, because at least it’s possible to follow it. It obviously lacks the requisite amount of John Kramer, for reasons of death, but Saw VI would improve upon that considerably.
In the sixth film, John’s ex, Jill, is the main beneficiary of Jigsaw’s last will and testament. Where most would leave some money, or some prized possessions, John left another trap. In the event of his death, he wanted to put his crooked medical insurance company through the wringer, focusing on William Easton, (Peter Outerbridge).
Jill delivers five of John’s six folders to Hoffman, who duly sets Easton up to go through the usual run of progressively nastier traps, passing judgement over his co-workers with the hope of freeing his family. There’s supposed to be some manner of cathartic enjoyment in this recession-era brand of Saw, where the victims are all money lenders or corrupt insurers, and somehow, in a way I can’t really explain, the traps have weight once again.
The whole thing is helped massively by Tobin Bell’s presence. The idea that he planned this game before his death means that it’s more logical than Hoffman’s works. Hoffman spends most of this film trying to stay out of trouble because he’s left a ton of incriminating evidence left, right and centre.
When he’s told that Strahm could not have killed the victims of Saw V because forensics suggest he was already dead before their time of death, Hoffman kills the forensics people and two more cops, before using Strahm’s disembodied hand to frame him for those murders too. This man is deceptively dumb, and it’s all I can do not to cheer when Jill sticks him in the reverse bear trap at the end of the film. He lives to carry on being stupid in the next film, though.
With John’s presence, it’s like the writers kicked it up a notch. It’s like they have two settings. They coast along when it’s Hoffman setting the traps without the need for logic, reason or rhyme, and they have to actually think when John’s involved. There’s a neat final twist, even if they’re still too preoccupied with retcons and the contradictory idea of the subject of the game judging others.
You never feel like the subjects in these games actually learn anything in the latter films. Saw had the characters show remorse and understand why they were being subjected to this ordeal. The latter films go for stock horror stereotypes, played by actors like Greg Bryk, to go through the meat grinder.
Considering how this all could have ended with Saw III, which is still the most profitable of the films even after IV, V and VI, it’s easy to say they lost what made the original film so interesting. Symbolically, you notice how the titular saw in the first film was a hacksaw, and how it’s invariably a rotary saw from then on. It’s noisier and faster, basically, but not always better. That said, Saw VI is easily the best since Saw III, wringing a little more point and purpose out of a series that’s undeniably running out of steam.
Whether the 3D bolstered returns of Saw VII will make a difference at the box office remains to be seen, but I can hope that the seventh instalment is the final instalment. Hell, we know they originally planned to make it eight, but Dunstan and Melton condensed down their plans for the last two films into one finale.
That willingness to distil suggests to me that they know they’ve been stretching the story too thin, so I have high hopes that Saw VII will be at least a partial return to form as much as it will be an end to the Jigsaw saga. All of its mythology and retcons almost make it like the horror fan’s Harry Potter, but with more gore than An Inconvenient Truth.
Whether you love it, hate it, or have a morbid fascination with the thing, that’s the Saw series, fully revisited and up to date. Only one remains…
Saw VSaw VI