Though I told myself I would not allow the Saw franchise to break my heart again, I caught Saw VI at my local cineplex last week. Buoyed by ...

Saw VI: A Failed Exercise in Social Commentary

Though I told myself I would not allow the Saw franchise to break my heart again, I caught Saw VI at my local cineplex last week. Buoyed by the positive reviews of other horror bloggers, I went in with high hopes that were promptly dashed to bits.

Spoilers and analysis to follow.

The film starts off with a trap that riffs off of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Just as Shylock demands his pound of flesh in repayment for a bad loan, two loan officers are pitted against each other in a twisted a game where they have to offer up their own flesh to survive.

According to Jigsaw, these unlucky lenders have preyed on people who could not repay the balance of their loan. The one who cuts off the most flesh will escape having screws torqued deep into their brain. Though this seems like a straightforward enough trap, it is comically complicated by the fact that one lender is severely overweight compared to his petite colleague.

This scene is the high point of the film.

Aesthetically, Saw VI is easier on the eyes than the soap opera style used to shoot Saw V. There are enough dynamic close-ups and camera movement to keep the audience interested in what’s happening on screen. We follow the journey of William, the head of Umbrella Insurance who distills people’s lives down to a simple formula: cost of care versus the likelihood of death. As Jigsaw points out, William leaves one very important factor out of the equation: the will to live.

Jigsaw forces William to play games that mimic what he does at his insurance company: choosing who lives and who dies. In the hanging trap, William must choose between his healthy assistant and an aging woman. The situation seems clear cut, but the woman has a family that will miss her while William’s assistant has no one.

William can only save one and ultimately rejects his formula, making an emotional decision instead of a rational one by saving the woman. While the way Jigsaw transforms William’s formula into multiple games is clever, it doesn’t comment on it in a meaningful way. We never see William’s “a-ha” moment, when he finally learns to value human life above the bottom line.

The main problem with Saw VI is that the metaphor is too transparent. Jigsaw sounds like an irate citizen at a town hall meeting on healthcare as he thinks aloud about who really controls the system. After William denies Jigsaw’s claim for medical treatment, Jigsaw tells him “It’s not doctors or the government who control healthcare. It’s the insurance companies.”

Immediately after this comment, Jigsaw’s attention is diverted to the giant tank of piranhas in William’s office and he murmurs “piranhas” with a smile on his face. As a fan of films, I don’t enjoy movies that hit me over the head with the moral of their story, a la Terminator Salvation. So insurance companies are like flesh eating piranhas that feed on sick people? Thanks, we got it.

More than anything it seems the writers of Saw VI just cut and pasted a current problem into the script in order to hold the audiences’ interest. It’s almost like they said: “Everyone hates insurance companies. Let’s make them the victims this time around!” What’s next? The head of AIG gets to doll out bonuses…of death?

Stop looking so shocked Amanda, the reveal wasn't that good and you know it.

Another flaw of the film is its reveal. The startling realizations from Saw I and III are hard to live up to, but this one doesn’t even come close. Instead of the jaw-dropping twists of previous films, the twist of Saw VI leaves one with a sort of “ohh” feeling. I won’t ruin it for those who have yet to see the movie and want to judge for themselves.

Needless to say, the latest installment of the Saw series hit theaters not with a bang, but a whimper.