Written by: Leigh Whannel and Darren Lynn Bousman
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Tobin Bell, Donnie Wahlberg, and Shawnee Smith
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"I want to play a game..."
After Saw made eighteen times its production budget by the end of its opening weekend in 2004, a sequel was inevitable. Indeed, Lion's Gate had already green-lit production of Saw II by that Monday in what has now become an annual tradition. When I left the theaters after seeing the original film, I'm not quite sure if a sequel ever crossed my mind. After all, we learned in the first film that The Jigsaw Killer was a terminal cancer patient, so how far could the series go? Of course, tiny details like that have never stopped horror franchises before, so why should it stop Saw? Thus, the second installment arrived exactly a year after its predecessor and assured audiences that oh yes, there would be blood.
As previously mentioned, the original revealed The Jigsaw Killer to be a terminally ill patient named John Kramer, who has taken it upon himself to teach the ungrateful to value their lives. Whereas his identity was kept secret until the end of the first film, Jigsaw here is front and center for the duration of the film. The film's opening scene features a typical Jigsaw trap: a police informant is given one minute to discover the location of a key that will unlock the "death mask" on his face. To put it mildly, the man is unsuccessful, and the detective reporting to the crime scene, Eric Matthews, is given a cryptic message from Jigsaw to "look closer." This prompts Eric to deduce Jigsaw's location in a nearby warehouse. Feeling smug in his apparent victory, Eric commands his SWAT Team to take Jigsaw into custody; however, he soon learns that Jigsaw holds all the cards, as he has kidnapped Eric's estranged son, Daniel, along with several other victims and trapped them in a house that is slowly being filled with deadly nerve gas. Eric is then given two hours to play Jigsaw's game in order to see his son alive again.
If it hasn't already become readily apparent, let me just say that Saw II is a bit more complicated film than its predecessor in that there are more characters involved. That said, the film is nearly as tightly constructed as the original and does a good job of balancing the two main plot threads. Between the two, however, I find Jigsaw and Eric's conversations to be the more interesting of the two, as Wahlberg and Bell are without a doubt the strongest actors in the film. Their conversations truly manage to flesh out the character of Jigsaw, who becomes one of the more complex and interesting horror villains out there by the end of this film. On the other side of the coin is Eric Matthews, who, despite his shortcomings and flaws, remains one of the best characters the series has had to offer so far.
The other plot thread follows Daniel and the other unfortunate Jigsaw villains in the trap house. In my review of the original film, I noted that Jigsaw's traps are essentially the same as the kills in a slasher film (though there's a bit more thought behind them), and Saw II takes this notion and runs with it, as the characters in the traphouse are really little more than Jigsaw fodder and serve to quench the audience's thirst for blood. In true slasher fashion, most of the characters here are little more than flat stereotypes that wander from trap to trap. The actors involved all do a good job in bringing these actors to life, but beyond Amanda and Daniel, I can't say I care too much about them. There does seem to be a bit of Romero influence to be found in the victims' refusal to work with each other and their propensity to be their own worst enemies, but, honestly, it's all about the traps and gore for the most part.
And in this department, Saw II truly delivers. There's tons of inventive and grotesque sequences throughout the film, including a syringe pit, a shotgun to the face, and a furnace, among others. While I feel the original film is a bit unfairly associated with the "torture porn" sub-genre, its sequel pushes further in this direction as the film lives up to the tagline's promise to deliver copious amounts of blood. While none of these sequences is as memorable as Dr. Gordon sawing through his own leg in the original, the various assortment of traps are interesting enough, even if there is little to no depth to the characters involved. From a horror perspective, Saw II is purely a gross out film, as there is very little to no suspense involved.
As a whole, Saw II is a very solid film, as the divergent plot threads end up converging nicely with a few twists. One of these twists is actually fairly predictable, but the the other is a nice surprise that causes you to realize just who exactly is being tested for the duration of the film. Like the original, Saw II manages to surprise you, but it also remains believable and doesn't attempt to deliberately mislead you. In short, it earns its twists and provides a satisfying ending, even if the novelty associated with the first film has worn off. Keeping everything together is newcomer Darren Lynn Bousman, who takes over the directing reigns from James Wan. Bousman's style is basically like Wan's on steroids, as Bousman retains Wan's quick, flashy editing and montage sequences; however, Saw II seems to be an even more frenetic film than the original, and is no doubt the most quickly paced and action packed film in the series thus far.
As a sequel, Saw II is a worthy follow-up to the original. Oddly, it feels like it retreads old ground while expanding the series at the same time. By adding depth to the main villain, the film gives the series a firm focus around the character of Jigsaw, while the trap house gives fans the gore sequences it has come to expect from the series. Overall, it's not as strong as the original, but it's certainly worth a look. Lion's Gate has released the film on DVD in both its theatrical and uncut incarnations. The latter is of course preferred, and the package also features more special features than the original release, including a couple of commentaries, several behind-the-scenes featurettes, a short film by Bousman, and an interactive game. It's a nice package, but hardcore Saw fans are going to want to pick up both discs to get all of the available special features. As far as presentation is concerned, the transfers for each release are top-notch and appropriately reflect the film's grimy, gritty look. Like the original film, the DTS soundtrack is a real winner that will rock your home theater system. For the high-def hounds out there, the uncut version has been released on Blu-ray with a superior audio and video presentation; however, Lion's Gate only bothered to import a handful of the special features from the uncut special edition disc. Overall, only Saw fans need to bother with every crucial detail in this regard; everyone else should be satisfied by checking out the uncut edition and giving it a spin. Rent it!
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