Squeezing another pint of blood from its torture-porn corpus, Lionsgate slays again with “Saw VI,” a film so frighteningly familiar it could well be called “Saw It Already.” At least the requisite moralism is more playful than pious in this edition, whose grotesque punishments extend even to a man guilty of (horrors!) cigarette smoking. Serial not only in terms of killing, the “Saw” franchise has essentially become a gory soap opera, its die-hard viewership addicted to following the entangled narrative viscera of Jill (Betsy Russell), Det. Lt. Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) and, of course, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell).
Deceased since “III” but still calling the shots from beyond the grave, the diabolically vengeful Jigsaw, aka John, is given an added grudge in “VI,” as flashbacks show he was threatened with the cancellation of his health insurance. (Not even mass murderers are immune to HMOs.)
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That explains the viciously elaborate series of traps set for Umbrella Health executive William (Peter Outerbridge), who’s forced to feel the gravity of choosing one patient’s life over another’s. The pic’s most memorably gruesome contraption is a spinning carousel with half a dozen of the executive’s colleagues on it; of those, only two are permitted to escape death by shotgun blast.
Other arguably deserving victims in this most topical of “Saw” sequels include a pair of predatory lenders forced to sever their own body parts and weigh them on a scale. As crudely fixated on ultraviolent vigilante justice as anything in the series (the proverbial “pound of flesh” is made literal here), this sequence begins the movie on an aptly torturous note.
Key revelations in “VI” include the contents of the box Jigsaw willed to his widow, Jill — who, in an obvious lead-in to the seventh installment, appears to be vying with Hoffman for the right to carry out the dead killer’s sick bidding from here. Meantime, Hoffman’s attempt to pin all post-Jigsaw murders on the late Peter Strahm — crushed to death in a giant trash compactor at the end of “V” — isn’t working for the newly healed and still-vigilant Agent Perez (Athena Karkanis).
As Jigsaw’s kindred victim-turned-vindicator, Mandylor has significantly less screen time than he did in the talky “V,” which benefits the new movie considerably. Flashbacks allow Shawnee Smith to reprise her role as Jigsaw accomplice Amanda, but the new performance is a cut below her surgical work in “III.”
Russell doesn’t do much but prepare to accept a larger part in “VII.” Bell might appear to be tiring of Jigsaw, though it’s hard to tell, since the film’s flashbacks center on the psycho’s cancerous final days.
Presumably owing to director Kevin Greutert’s work as editor of all five previous “Saw” pics, the film’s juggling of chronology is the franchise’s best — “downright slick,” as Jigsaw would say.
Still, whatever technical improvements “Saw VI” makes on earlier entries can only be seen as marginal in the context of a series that remains as revolting as its fans would seem to insist.