Saw VI

In “Saw VI,” the torture franchise takes a cue from another remarkably long-running series — TV’s “Law & Order” — and rips its story from the headlines. Predatory mortgage lenders and callous health-insurance providers are among those singled out for punishment this time, and while the social commentary is as shallow as ever, the film’s overall quality is better than the last two installments. That isn’t saying much, but it’s something.

Kevin Greutert, who served as editor on the five previous films, makes his feature directorial debut here. (That’s the deal: Edit five films, you get to direct the sixth one.) Returning as writers are Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, who have been onboard since part 4. Their ongoing storyline has become so convoluted that soap-opera-style dialogue is required to keep the audience up to speed. (“The victim was Seth Baxter — the man who killed your sister.” I suspect the man remembers the name of his sister’s murderer, thank you.) People fake their own deaths, plant evidence, are revealed to have surprising family ties, the whole nine yards. Have we had evil twins yet? Surely it’s only a matter of time.

The series continues to make the laughable assertion that the psychopath Jigsaw’s intention is to honor human life, not degrade it. After all, he only targets “worthy” victims who must face death up close in order to appreciate life better. Yes, the “Saw” franchise’s graphic eviscerations and dismemberments are designed to celebrate the sanctity of life!

This contemptible Orwellian doublethink couldn’t possibly fool any but the dumbest of viewers, but “Saw VI” sure tries to sell it. The primary target this time is an insurance-industry executive named William Easton (Peter Outerbridge), whose job, as you know, is to find excuses not to cover people’s medical expenses even if it costs them their lives. I don’t know if it’s idiotic or brilliant to draw a parallel between the “Saw” franchise’s underlying theme — playing games with people’s lives — and the insurance industry. In a way, this is what “Saw” has been about all along, and it’s just a lucky coincidence that health insurance is suddenly topical.

Easton is forced to complete a series of tests in which he must choose who lives and who dies, each time inflicting pain upon himself when he decides. This is how Jigsaw shows him the error of his ways. Not so easy to “deny coverage” to someone when doing so will cause them to be murdered right before your eyes, is it, smart guy?? Of course, Jigsaw is doing the same thing, acting as a one-man death panel, but don’t bring that up. Jigsaw’s purpose is to honor human life, remember?

See all the Saws:

“Saw” (2004) B+
“Saw II” (2005) C
“Saw III” (2006) B-
“Saw IV” (2007) C-
“Saw V” (2008) D
“Saw VI” (2009) C
“Saw 3D” (2010) C-
“Jigsaw” (2017) B-

But what is Jigsaw doing here anyway, you ask? Didn’t he die in, like, part 3? Quite so. But as you no doubt recall, he found a cop named Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) to continue his work. “Saw V” ended with Hoffman killing an FBI agent who was getting too close to the truth; now he has framed the poor dope for the latest Jigsaw murders, remembering the truism that it’s best to pin the blame on someone who’s too dead to defend himself. But the late FBI agent’s colleagues are getting suspicious, too, so “Saw VI” has Hoffman pulling double duty: continuing Jigsaw’s fiendish plans while trying to throw the Feds off his scent.

Jigsaw himself, real name John Kramer (Tobin Bell), still manages to appear in the film quite a bit, as he has in the last few entries, through the magic of flashbacks. We learn more details about his relationship with his wife, Jill (Betsy Russell), to whom he bequeathed a mysterious box in the last film, a box whose contents are not revealed until now. (How very “Days of Our Lives”!) There is also the matter of a TV news reporter, Pamela Jenkins (Samantha Lemole), covering the story of John “Jigsaw” Kramer and expressing great interest in his post-mortem activities.

Pretty much every scene involving people talking to each other is bad, as usual; Dunstan and Melton have some imaginative story ideas, but they still can’t write dialogue for crap. What’s fairly entertaining, though, is the story itself — with its over-the-top lunacy and a few genuine surprises — and the diabolical “games” the characters are put through. Those torture traps, always at the heart of a “Saw” film, seem more creative this time. The series feels newly energized, to the point where I can almost say this is a “good” film, without any qualifiers. Almost.

C (1 hr., 31 min.; R, a lot of harsh profanity, abundant graphic violence, torture, and gore.)