As I found a place in the packed theater for the midnight showing of Saw VI, a thought popped into my brain. For a lot of these people around me, Jigsaw is their horror icon. They look forward to the yearly Saw movie much the way people in the 80s looked forward to the next installment of the Friday The 13th or Nightmare On Elm Street series.
However, there is a crucial difference between Saw and Friday The 13th or Nightmare, and that is something called continuity. The franchise horrors from the 80s had simpler explanations for why the killers kept killing: those darn kids can’t stay out of Crystal Lake and Elm Street’s multiple murder scenes cause home prices to stay reasonable enough to where families with teens kept moving in. In the Sawniverse, there seems to be a legitimate effort to make the Saw movies interrelated in a more than just a window dressing sort of way.
There’s a logical progression at work. Even as Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) dies or Amanda (Shawnee Smith) dies, someone new like Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) and Jill (Betsy Russell) rises to take their place, and the movies have tried their best to make it make sense. That’s right, I just accused Saw scribes Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton of being able to weave together the threads linking their Saw movies.
Given that the series has been in their hands since Saw IV (and will be in their hands for Saw VII), it’s good that they’re able to plot out where they want the story to go and communicate that effectively. Dunstan and Melton are telling a larger story here, but they’re doing it in such a way that someone like me can randomly pop in for Saw VI without having seen Saw IV and V and have it still make sense. Part of that is liberal use of flashbacks to previous movies, and part of it is using logic within the story itself. There’s no head-scathingly insane twist.
That doesn’t mean that the writing isn’t occasionally hokey (one man’s impassioned speech pre-death had the audience laughing, but that might have been the point) or that the attempted political commentary isn’t domineering. I don’t need Jigsaw moralizing for government-run health insurance, thank you. Nor do I need to be reminded that big business (and those that run them) tend to be ruthless. These are all things I know. Stick to the Saw formula.
The good thing about a Saw movie is that it doesn’t matter what I say about it. If you’ve seen one or two, then you know exactly what to expect. Opening torture, some scenes of cops hunting for Jigsaw or setting up the story behind the movie’s main game, then more torture, then cops or story, torture, and repeat as necessary until the sequel-building conclusion. Either you’re in the audience that’s going to like this movie, or you’re not.
I have to say I didn’t completely dislike Saw VI, but I wasn’t happy with it, either. I felt ripped off by the lack of closure of some sort. The game’s star William (Peter Outerbridge) didn’t satisfy me, as I find it tough to root for a sleazy insurance executive. The acting by all associated parties was perfectly fine, and Kevin Greutert’s direction is fine, but it feels as though the formula is starting to run out of steam. Maybe they’re running out of good torture-porn-y death scenes, or maybe it’s just not shocking anymore because we know to expect several gory death scenes per movie. I don’t know.
While the box office results will tell whether or not we get more Saws (we undoubtedly will), there needs to be some kind of change. Maybe drop the filters and the heavy use of flashback. Maybe bring in a known director to shake things up with his own style, rather than someone to continue on with the Darren Lynn Bousman Saw template. Stick with the writers you have, and then do something to give the Saw series some more visual excitement. Or maybe, and stick with me on this one, you can end the series on a high note, rather than a low note. You know, be different from every other horror franchise and end with a successful final chapter, rather than petering away to nothing in an endless stream of no-budget, American Pie-style straight-to-video sequels.