The Great SAW Dialogue: SAW VI

Britt and Brian take apart the franchise film by film.

Read them all here.

SAW VI (2009)
Domestic Gross: $27m (series rank: #7 - boo on you)
R.I.P.: Eddie (Pound of Flesh Trap), Hank the janitor (Oxygen Trap), Allen (Barb Wire Noose Trap), Debbie (Maze Trap), four "Lap Dogs" (Carousel Trap), Erickson, Perez, and the lab tech (killed by Hoffman), and of course Bill, turned into soup at the end of the game.
Answered Questions: Who lifted Kerry into her trap? (Hoffman) What's in the box John left for Jill? (Instructions for a final game, instructions to kill Hoffman, and the bear trap to do it with.) What did Amanda's note say? (It was from Hoffman and it was him letting her know that she played a part in Jill losing her baby, so he said for her to kill Lynn or else he'd tell John it was her fault he lost his son.) Why did that blonde woman get a closeup in Saw V? (She's got evidence about the case, and also she's the sister of the newest game player.)
One And Done: Well it's too close to the end for it to mean much, but for what it's worth: Peter Outerbridge (Bill) and pretty much everyone he encounters along the way didn't come back for new scenes in Saw 3D. The only exception is Shauna MacDonald (Tara), who counts herself as a Jigsaw survivor for some reason. Also Devon Bostick, who plays her son, actually appeared in Saw IV as a random patient of Jill's, but we should just assume he's not playing the same character. At this point they were probably just running out of Canadian actors to use.

Brian: Yay! We're back to a GOOD Saw movie! This one even had series haters admitting it was a good flick, so it's needless to say that as an avowed Saw fan I was more than happy with how it turned out. Happy with the film itself that is - as a fan I'm endlessly disappointed by how it fared at the box office; after two underwhelming entries it was hard to get anyone back in theaters for another go-around ("fool me once..."), even with myself and the other horror writers (and even some mainstream ones) singing its praises. That plus the out of nowhere success of Paranormal Activity resulted in Saw VI being the lowest grosser of the series, and while it didn't technically bomb, as it made its money back, its poor turnout resulted in the series (temporarily?) being put on ice, with the planned 7 and 8 being combined into one finale the following year.

But more on that later - let's talk VI! Everything about this one works for me, both the new standalone game and the ongoing Hoffman storyline. Things get off to a good start when we learn what was in the box that John left for Jill, or at least, some of what was in it - new director (and series editor) Kevin Greutert teases us by only showing half of its contents - we know something else was in there but for now all we see are six envelopes. Later on, Hoffman demands them, but she only gives him the first 5. At the end of the movie we discover the other item AND the contents of envelope 6 - it's John's instructions to Jill to take Hoffman out. The other item was the reverse bear trap! AWESOME. Since he took over I kept wondering if Hoffman actually gave a shit about John's plans or was just doing these things to save his own skin, but I guess either way it seems John knew that Hoffman had to go.

However, he still needs Hoffman to carry out his newest game, and possibly his most personal. The target is Bill Easton (Peter Outerbridge), an exec at an insurance company who is a sort of friend to John, yet denies him access to an experimental treatment that might cure his cancer. Easton has designed a formula that can determine whether or not providing coverage to customers will be financially worthwhile to his company (i.e. if you're healthy they're happy to keep charging you for the insurance you never need; if you have as much as a cold when you're twelve it appears that they'll cancel your coverage before it costs them anything), something John quickly boils down to "So you decide who lives or dies." Obviously that's a subject he's very much interested in, and it's a shame that he inexplicably waited until after he died to have this game carried out - I think he would have liked to see how this one in particular played out. Guess he just hated Eric Matthews that much?

Not only is it a compelling game in its own right, with Bill's own formula coming back to bite him on the ass several times (like when he has to choose between a perfectly healthy clerk or his elderly secretary), but it was also a timely one - our country's health care crisis was big news in 2009, and it's a shame that Lionsgate had to insist on coasting on the usual "If it's Halloween it must be Saw" approach (i.e. not explaining the story at all in trailers, banking on the name brand alone) as maybe a few more folks would have turned out just to see Jigsaw's take on Obamacare. The series has famously avoided any real world specifics (it's not even clear what city it takes place in), so that it actually had a connection to a real world current topic sets it apart from the others even if it wasn't already standing out for being really damn good. But it doesn't date the film either; it's not specific enough to any actual health care plan or company for that - it's just making a Saw movie that much more interesting, and probably always will.

OK Britt, I know you disliked the last two more than I did, but tell me you at least liked this one a lot!

Britt: I actually liked this one! But I kept wondering if I liked it more simply in contrast to the terribleness of IV and V, or because it was genuinely a good film - like, was it merely "better" or was it actually "good"? If you removed the Saw branding from this film and released it as a standalone horror film, would it hold up? I would like to think so. I want to believe that this is a good entry in the franchise, and by hitting on something that was socially and politically relevant at the time, it opens itself up to more creative and clever possibilities. No, it's not incredibly insightful socio-political commentary and it's not a scathing indictment, but the fact that it's acknowledging our broken healthcare industry and playing with that is pretty great. Obviously they have enough self-awareness to know not to overreach on an intellectual level and to just let this thing be what it needs to be, and for that reason it also succeeds.

Hoffman is not my least favorite character in this only because Erickson exists and he's somehow even more bland and horrible, but Hoffman is still pretty awful to sit through - it's because as a villain, he's kind of a meathead. Jigsaw has plans and a real vision (as exhausting as that vision has become six movies in), but Hoffman is so self-centered and surface-level. He has no depth and everything he does as a character is in service to himself. I get that that's a big part of the design of his character, but as someone who's designated to carry on the Jigsaw legacy, you kind of hope for someone cooler, not some arrogant suit and shoes with a finicky Starbucks order. You would think Jigsaw would choose more wisely when picking his successors.

But maybe Jigsaw likes having to test people like Amanda and Hoffman, and maybe that's part of his design, too. I don't know. I can't be bothered trying to figure him out anymore. I do love Jill, and I continue to enjoy characters like Jill and Amanda, who are complex - for as many complaints as I have about this series, and as many times as it's given us lame dialogue and poorly-drawn characters, it has given us some compelling women like Jill and Amanda, and even Harold's wife, trapped in the confusing acid cage with her annoying teen son. I enjoy the reveal that this is not Bill's wife and son, but the wife of Harold, the man whose insurance policy he canceled. (Also, Harold is played by George Newbern from Doppelganger and Father of the Bride!) But back to the ladies, who are always fun to watch and who get to make wacky, nutso decisions. The opening scene has a woman chopping her damn arm off to kill her coworker so she can live, then we get Jill taking out John's final plans, which include killing the shit out of Hoffman (which does not work, and that makes me sad), and we get Harold's wife and son having to decide whether or not to take Bill out in prime gnarly fashion with some acid because they might be doing the world a favor and saving hundreds - maybe thousands - of lives in the process. If we've learned anything from Jigsaw's games it's that people don't really change, and Harold's wife doesn't have to play along to know that Bill here is probably going to go back to making money and letting people die. It's grotesque, but I see her point? Saw VI is a real message movie.

Brian: It is sad that Hoffman doesn't die, but a) at least he saves himself in hilariously quick thinking fashion, sticking his face through some metal bars to keep the trap from opening all the way (and giving himself a gnarly scar in the process), and b) if he was dead then who would go on the hilarious throat stabbing spree in the next film? IN 3D NO LESS! As for Erickson, I don't mind him because he's played by Mark Rolston, who is always welcome in my movies. Plus I like that both he and the surprisingly alive Agent Perez (Athena Karkanis, who I wish was around longer as she is lovely to look at and never got to expand her character much) almost seem to know Hoffman is the bad guy right off the bat but need evidence to prove it, so they constantly bait him to see if he'll screw up. It's a fun little cat and mouse game.

But you're right, the women definitely get to have more fun in these later entries. It also kinda gets back to the original film's focus on letting women live while the men die; when Bill has to save two of his six minions, he chooses two women, and also chooses his female secretary over the male clerk. The lawyer dies but it was kind of self-defense for him since she was trying to kill him with a damn buzz saw. And it seems that Bill's sister was never in any danger at all, just there to watch. It's a shame the series ended before they ever had a female protagonist running through a gauntlet like Jeff, Riggs, Bill and Bobby (the next film's hero) got to - it'd be a fun way to mix it up. Of course, Saw 3D might be the most misogynist of them all and it's the same director and writers as this one, so I have to assume it's never intentional either way, just how things shake out.

After V, I'm glad this one avoided too many flashbacks about how this or that thing we saw in the past actually had this or that person helping out. And the big one is actually pretty amusing, showing Hoffman putting the drunk driver that killed Jeff's son into his trap - we get a throwaway bit of explanation about how he does the "heavy lifting" (re: the comment back in Saw IV about how Jigsaw must have another accomplice besides Amanda in order to lift Kerry into her trap), and also some delightful tech talk. Hoffman's tweaking the trap and Jigsaw's all "If you switch the gear ratio, you have to change the gear grease to match the increased friction." and Amanda gives him the proper gauge tool to work on it. I mean, I know it's all just to hammer home the fact that Hoffman's not as good at this stuff as they are, but I would have liked to see a scene of the three of them just debating which mechanical parts to use and brainstorming how things can work. Did they have a QA process or just hope these Rube Goldbergian devices would work properly?

There is one kinda plot hole in this one that I never considered before - Bill could have died in the first trap, with the smoking janitor. I mean, the odds were heavily in his favor, but anything could have happened. And if he died, then what? Would the janitor have to go around and do everything else? Or would all 10-11 other people trapped in the game just die? The other traps had Bill more or less out of mortal danger, so it's weird that Jigsaw had this one first.

I think the big thing about this one that makes it work for me is that it's the first time since the first that I got to play the "What would I do here?" game. Usually it's a no brainer (as much as I love Saw III, burning the toys is the only one I think I'd be momentarily conflicted about), but with something like the carousel trap, I'd really be at a loss about what to do. Like what if it was six of our fellow BADers in there? If it was Evan, Phil, Devin, Meredith, Scott and Andrew, could you possibly pick among them? Okay, we'd all pick Meredith to save, duh, but who else? I think that sort of scenario, even if you don't consciously start thinking about what you'd do, it probably hits on a subconscious level and elevates it above the others, even if it's still got some of the same problems that plague later Saw films (i.e. Jigsaw's inconsistent way of going about proving his theories, not many character moments, Hoffman).

Britt: I was a bit bummed that Perez ate it in this film because the cat and mouse stuff is so great, and the scene in the lab where they're playing the voice recording and trying to clean up the audio to figure out that it is Hoffman is such a tense, wonderful moment. You really do want Erickson and Perez to nail Hoffman - because then what? Jill finishes the game and carries on the legacy? That might have been interesting. There's some cool hypotheticals at work there. Too bad for Perez, though. She makes a cool foil for Hoffman, and I was sad to see her go.

You know, now that you mention it, why didn't the series ever have a female protagonist running the gauntlet in her own game? That would have been super rad! Just one lone female being put through a series of games on her own would have been neat. And while I do think it's interesting to note that Bill chooses to save women time and again, there's something a little White Knight-y about it. It's not as if he's saving women because he thinks they're the best humans to save, but it reads like he's saving them because it feels sexist not to. In the case of the secretary versus the assistant, I do think his guilt over his past choices wins out, and he feels bad because she has a family, but when faced with six options from his bull pen, he chooses only women to save, as if he's doing something noble. And maybe that's not a personal character choice, but a writing choice so the viewers don't feel as though the film is being sexist. Shrug.

While it would be cool to see them discussing the mechanics, what I'm more interested in is who cleans up these messes after the games? Is there a Jigsaw janitor? Did we already talk about this? During the scene where Hoffman gets out of his glass coffin contraption and sees Strahm's gooey corpse, he just steps over it and walks away, and I'm wondering who cleans that up. I assume not ever game is discovered by the police, so someone has to clean this shit up at some point, you know? You can't just have innards laying about. It's unseemly.

And yeah, what if Bill died in the first trap? Does Hoffman get on a loudspeaker with his Jigsaw voice like, "Attention victims, we seem to have encountered a small problem. We appreciate your patience while we work to resolve the issue. We will have a replacement player shortly. Until then, please enjoy this smooth jazz mixtape."

The traps, like the first few films, do make you consider what you might do in the various scenarios, but I did find myself a bit annoyed - the janitor wasn't a bad person, so why did he deserve to die? The secretary did nothing wrong, and what if Bill chose to kill her? These people are all working for a living and just chose to work for a company that's pretty unethical in its practices, but for a film that's making the obvious statement about the horrible state of our healthcare industry, it also fails to understand some pretty evident complexities. The working class janitor who would likely be screwed over by that very same industry, but has to get a job somewhere - how is that death fair? The young man fresh out of college who needs to pay his bills and pay back his student loans, most likely, and who needs the real world experience to advance. He hasn't done anything really wrong, either. Neither has the secretary. Yes, the members of the bullpen act obnoxious and are painted as caricatures, but they are just doing a job and are innocents in their own way. There are bigger people to indict. The lawyer, I get. Bill, I get. Going after bigwigs is understandable, but the worker bees makes little sense. If Jigsaw wants to make an example, why do it in Anonymous City, USA? Why not strap down some big corporate guys from the insurance industry or some senators and make them watch to teach them a lesson?

The biggest flaw of the series is when it places undeserving people into the game. That's when it takes me out of it and gives me pause, and that's when I begin over-thinking the narrative choices, and probably thinking way more about the plot of these films than I should. Every person placed in these traps should have some justification according to the moral code of Jigsaw. Even if the janitor is just there to help teach Bill a lesson, there should be something shady in his past that makes him deserving of death in the eyes of the people who put him there.

Brian: Yeah, that was a problem with IV (the abused wife) and it's even bigger here, because all these folks (save for his "lap dogs") are just trying to make a living during an economic crisis and don't have much say or care in what Generic Medical Insurance Co. is up to. At least the lap dogs seemed to enjoy finding ways of screwing people over, so hell with all of them. I think 3D has some of this too, but I forget. It's possible there WAS some explanation for everyone (maybe the janitor was stealing supplies, maybe the secretary killed her husband, etc) and it got cut in order to move things along, as this is the shortest entry so far (editing?), but who knows.

We kinda skipped over the opening, where Jigsaw also tackles the housing crisis by trapping two loan officers that screwed over people that they knew couldn't afford to pay their mortgage. To survive they have to extract their own pound of flesh, hence the aforementioned arm cutting. It's a goofy trap but enjoyably so, and Greutert really makes you feel each whack of the ax as she hacks away. The victim was Tanedra Howard, who won VH-1's Scream Queens (the role in Saw VI being the prize) and also got to come back for Saw 3D, and continues to work fairly regularly. Her role was much better than the one given to the next season's winner, who basically just screams and dies in the series' dumbest trap for her trouble. Anyway, it was fun to see this brief little joke at the expense of the nation's OTHER ongoing crisis at the time; it might have been fun if the series continued to always have a real world thing get tackled in the opening scene if they couldn't make a whole movie about it. A second amendment rights activist, a gay marriage opposer, a Gamergater...

One final note from me - Bill dies worse than any other series protagonist so far. I thought Strahm would be hard to beat, but Bill gets filled with acid and basically turns into a puddle after his legs fall off from his torso. Gross. Guess he had it coming for denying that treatment and sending poor George Newbern to his grave. It Takes Two forever.

Any final words before we head toward the grand finale? Current ranking?

Britt: I was super proud of myself for remembering that Tanedra Howard won Scream Queens, and she's really good in that part! The opening is supremely icky and a brilliant trap for both of them - there's no way she has enough flesh to put in this machine compared to her overweight companion, and you keep wanting to shout at her "Just pick up the damn cleaver, girl, you don't have much time!" I had a hard time watching that sequence, which is saying a lot since these films are so saturated with traps and torture, but the editing in that scene is far more restrained and really forces us to watch all the cutting and sawing and hacking. Self-mutilation is the worst, and in that moment you sort of think back to the first film.

Bill definitely gets the most horrific death of any victim in the series. Being liquefied from the inside out by acid is a nightmare. Side note: I saw It Takes Two in the theater and I owned it on VHS. I support George Newbern forever. Bill, not so much.

I don't know that I'm looking forward to more from Hoffman, and I want Jill to murder the shit out of him. That is my wish for Saw VII, a film I don't remember anything about other than the Linkin Park guy and something about a car, and something about Jill having some wackadoo moment where she gets covered in blood - I hope that it's a victorious covered in blood moment and not one where she dies and Hoffman reigns nacho supreme, free to put his dumb leather gloves back on like he's auditioning to stand next to a luxury car.

Current ranking: I > III > II > VI > It Takes Two > IV - V (tie)

OK, we're off to the finale, and even though no one answers these questions I'm going to keep it going for the hell of it - did you skip this one in theaters? Do you feel guilty that you killed Saw?