SAW II

3.5 Stars
Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 91 minutes
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A sequel to “Saw”, but without James Wan, the original director, and with some input from Leigh Whannell, the original writer and star, sounds like a disaster in the making. What started out as an obvious attempt to quickly cash in on the success of the first independent horror feature from Wan and Whannell last year turned into something fairly entertaining by the grace of god and the talents of the cast. “Saw”, inarguably, is a film that did not need a sequel. It was clever, and frightening, and it wasn’t created for franchise horror Andy Warhol-style copycat art. Yet that’s exactly what happened to it when it floated into the hands of an American company. Though I haven’t personally asked him, one has to wonder why James Wan, one of the original creators, decided to bow out of this sequel rather than direct it himself. These facts did not bode well for “Saw II”, and would be a detriment to any movie under any circumstances…but “Saw II” survived them.

Because sequels have to be bigger, better, and bolder than the first film (just watch “Scream II” for some tips on making a sequel), “Saw II” expands on the characters we briefly met in the first film ad adds to the body count in some new and gruesome ways. In a rare, and nearly breathtaking feat not undertaken since John Carpenter made “Halloween II”, “Saw II” does something extraordinary; unlike most sequels, it picks up where it left off. It gives us connections to the first film that make us feel at home. It lets us in on a few of the secrets it has in store for its victims, and allows to watch the gruesome panorama with growing sadistic pleasure. The open-endedness of “Saw”’s finale was not just an artistic and pessimistic climax to the tale; it actually, unknowingly, made room for a sequel that shows some of the same boldness and intellect of the first one.

Donnie Wahlberg, brother to the more talented and attractive Mark Wahlberg, plays Detective Eric Matthews; a standard hard-boiled, down-on-his-luck divorce’ who has problems with his teenage son. He also seems to have a mysterious connection to all of the new victims in the latest Jigsaw case. That’s right, Jigsaw, the malicious killer from “Saw” is back, with more sick and demented traps and disgusting abuse for those who don’t “truly appreciate life”. Jigsaw, played by the pasty and creepy Tobin Bell, was only a shadow in “Saw I”. In part II he gets to really develop his character and it works. Jigsaw is not only a multifaceted human being, he’s intelligent and charismatic. He’s not an axe-wielding psychopath out for revenge, or possessed by demons. He’s a serial killer with a motive and a keen insight into people’s psyches. That’s pretty frightening. His traps are well thought out, and his games deigned fairly for the victims. He is not a monster, but a very real and compelling nemesis that has no worthy opponent. Detective Eric Matthews is hardly a match for the cool headed Jigsaw. Accompanied by Kerry, (Dina Meyer) a really hot detective that seems to have had an affair with Detective Matthews at some point, Matthews must save his son from Jigsaw’s power. But he can only do this by playing by Jigsaw’s rules. Dina Meyer reprises her role from the first film, which barely existed before. She’s not a very interesting creation; she seems to have walked off the set of a bad Lifetime Original Movie with her blasé good looks and bland line delivery.

In what is the other “game” in the film, Shawnee Smith, Franky G., Glen Plummer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Beverly Mitchell, and Erik Knudson all try to stay alive in a secluded house under the close scrutiny of Jigsaw. Terrible and nauseating traps are set for these people who repeatedly fall victim to fear, physical pain, and disgusting contraptions designed to torture. The tasks are more gross, more violent, and just as shocking as they are in the first film. Shawnee Smith reprises her role as Amanda from “Saw I”, and in what is a surprisingly pleasant change Beverly Mitchell (better known as Lucy from “7th Heaven”) puts on an awesomely chilling performance. A cameo from sexy horror icon John Fallon adds a spark of excitement for the ladies.

With “time running out” and cliché tricks coating the entire story, it’s hard sometimes to follow the complex and problematic plot. Characters often act, well, “out of character”, or contrary to what we later learn in their nature. Despite great pains taken to close up any gaps and holes, there are still a few cracks left unsealed for everyone to see. Of course, there is a huge, and expected, “twist” at the end (a requirement for any film made later than 1998 in the thriller section of the video store). The storyline is as jumpy as the overcompensating and shaky camera work (in an overzealous attempt to copy the cinematography pf the first film). The end of the film leaves you feeling much the same as you felt while watching the first “Saw”, except you’ve already felt it before.

Director Darren Lynn Bousman got the job of directing this film by writing a completely different, but similar, script called “The Desperate”. When “The Desperate” came to the attention of some real producers, they decided to change it and adapt it to become “Saw II”, thereby creating a plethora of storyline and character issues that needed to be resolved before filming could even remotely begin. Bousman tried very hard to maintain the feel and look of the first film, and indeed, he had a tough task. Fans would hate him if he made the film too different, but making it exactly the same wouldn’t serve any purpose. It’s noticeable that Bousman did make a conscious attempt to appease fans of the first film rather than create his own vision, which might have added some much needed artistic value to the otherwise technically cheap copy of the first. Bousman is a talented director, it’s a shame he didn’t take more liberties with the look, feel, and storyline. Even if the fans had hated it, it might have been a better film.



Posted on October 28, 2005 in Reviews by
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