While rarely seen in this age of dumbed-down cinema, there is indeed such a thing as overestimating the mental capabilities of one's audience. If anything, filmmakers usually think their audiences are actually much less sophisticated than they actually are. Michael Bay's racist, sexist, brain-dead epic "Transformers 2" is this year's most prominent example.
Where one least expects to find the too-smart-for-its-audience picture is in the realm of hardcore horror. There's rarely very much complexity when it comes to a maniac killer's acts of carnage. The gore film which engages its viewers in any intellectual sense is the cinema's loch ness monster - rumored to exist but a beast rarely seen.
Perhaps this has been one of the key factors which has set the "Saw" series apart since the first entry in the franchise emerged in 2004. In addition to pushing the envelope with its ever-increasing levels of violence, the series has been known for labyrinthine plots with "Fight Club"/"Sixth Sense"-style twist endings.
Well, one can only keep upping the level of sophistication until the device reaches Rube Goldberg levels of complexity and finally falls apart. The Jigsaw Killer might be a genius but the directors and screenwriters of the "Saw" series never were.
For the sixth installment the Jigsaw Killer AKA John Kramer (Tobin Bell) is still dead - as he has been since the third film. And we're only treated to him via flashbacks. But his work is still ongoing in the person of his remaining disciple, Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor.) Also still along for the ride is his widow Jill (Betsy Randall.)
Despite Hoffman's skillful covering of his tracks in "Saw V" his colleagues in the police department are still suspicious that there may be others carrying on Jigsaw's legacy. So he has to keep an eye on their ongoing investigation and try to subtly nudge them off track.
Meanwhile Hoffman still has more of his mentor's unfinished business to complete. There are new victims who need to be tested. Apparently the "Saw" screenwriters are also political aficionados. Their choice of victims for this round: health insurance operatives who scheme to deny people coverage.
The particular death traps of "Saw VI" are designed with this health insurance theme in mind. A sleazy insurance exec named William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) is forced to actually choose who amongst his employees will live or die. The idea is that he has to murder people directly now instead of just indirectly by denying insurance coverage of medical bills.
So, in other words, it's a horror flick for Obamacare supporters. With Democratic Representative Alan Grayson talking about how the healthcare situation in America is a "Holocaust" and that opponents of the Presidents plan "want you to die" I suppose it was only a matter of time.
These political themes aside, basically in order to enjoy "Saw VI" one needs an intense familiarity with the previous films in the series. One must hold five "Saw" films' worth of mythology in one's mind because in "VI" the screenwriters are going to be referencing events and traps from all the previous films. In expecting their viewers to be able to do this they wildly overestimate our intelligence. (Or perhaps they just think that their fans are much more devoted than we really are. Do they think we all rewatch all five previous films right before coming see "VI"?)
But this demand for an over-expenditure of fan devotion is not the newest film's only drawback.
I also was less than impressed with the final twist at the end. It just really was not nearly as clever or emotionally satisfying as previous endings (particularly the ultra-cool conclusion of "Saw V.") Typically with "Saw" films the ending causes one to reevaluate everything that has just occurred. "Saw V" does not really do this.
The death traps are also starting to grow a bit stale - it's hard to recall any particular contraption which really jumped out at me in this one as memorable. Perhaps the running theme of the tested healthcare exec having to choose who will live and who will die limited the screenwriters.
These issues aside the film is hardly bad. It's still entertaining and effective - much better than "III" and "IV" though not quite as good as "V," "II," and the original. The over-complexity was more tolerable than in "IV," for example. Whereas in "IV" I had no idea what was going on because the characters were so poorly defined, in "VI" the only confusion came with trying to place the chronology of all the flashbacks to previous films.
With finally hitting the sixth entry in the "Saw" series it's about time for a reboot of some sort. I hope that with "Saw VII" they wrap up the narrative which they left hanging at the end of "Saw VI." It's about time to just close this storyline off and really reinvent the whole premise.
Where does "Saw" go then? (After all there's still money to be sucked out of the franchise.) Not that anyone who could do anything about it is listening but I suppose I might as well put forth my idea. "Saw" needs to jump into the future. It should go sci-fi and set "Saw VIII" 100 years into the future. Have a protagonist who rediscovers the events depicted in the first seven films and decides to carry on Jigsaw's work. This way the "Saw" traps can be infused with advanced technology and we can start getting some more original death traps. (They really are starting to run out of ideas in that department.)
I think a "Son of Saw" film is just what the series needs to stay alive. And if there's any coherent theme that the series has sought to promulgate it's that when faced with death people can go to extreme measures to survive. Now it's time for "Saw" to practice what it preaches.