2004’s Saw is one of the most polarizing films of the past few years, and going into Saw II you’ll find yourself in one of three groups: 1) Saw is a well-done, low budget shocker that gets the job done until the ludicrous “twist”; 2) Saw is not any good and only serves as visceral entertainment for those enjoy the torture and demise of others; or 3) Saw is awesome all the way around. If you’re part of group number one, just hang in there. If you’re in group number two, why are you reading this review? If you’re in group three, you’re on my side.
Saw II is, all things considered, a superior film to the first installment. There is more blood and gore, and the plot is more polished and intriguing. Be forewarned, however, that it is assumed by the filmmakers that you have seen the original film. If you have not, I would suggest you hold off on this one until you have. Saw II makes brilliant use of references to its predecessor, but they will only provide confusion and spoilers to the uninitiated.
As the film opens, a kidnapped police informant (Noam Jenkins) is being held captive in Jigsaw’s (Bell) lair, and he is in one heck of a predicament. He doesn’t survive Jigsaw’s game, and called in to investigate his murder is Detective Eric Matthews (Wahlberg). His partner, Detective Kerry (Meyer), immediately recognizes it as the work of the Jigsaw killer. Working with a clue left behind on the informant’s murder scene, Matthews soon tracks down Jigsaw’s lab and the authorities make their move. They’re in for a big surprise, however, as Jigsaw flaunts via computer monitors and surveillance equipment that he has a group of nine people, including Matthews’ son, Daniel (Knudsen), locked in a house. Lethal gas is slowly being pumped into the house, and everyone will be dead in two hours time unless they can play by the Jigsaw’s rules, pool their knowledge, and get out.
Director/co-writer Darren Lynn Bousman and writer Leigh Whannell (who played Adam in the original film) have crafted a true horror house in Saw II. They have sick minds, to be sure, but they’re also quite clever. Unlike the first film, which many maintain is nothing more than a gimmick, Bousman and Whannell devote more effort to trying to keep the twists and plot plausible. The big twist is satisfying and gasp-worthy, particularly when some references to the first film are revealed. Director Bousman, taking over for James Wan of the original Saw, doesn’t add anything particularly new to the look of the film. It is well shot, but there are a few sequences that appear to have been edited by Tony Scott’s intern. Just like the previous film, intensity is kept at a mind-numbing high.
The deaths, as previously mentioned, are gorier and more gruesome than before. A sequence involving a pit full of dirty syringes had me quaking in my seat, and I’m not even that squeamish around needles. Those who wince at the thought of that yearly flu shot will most likely have their head in their hands.
The acting, all by fairly unknown actors, is also stronger in this film. Tobin Bell is pitch-perfect as the devilish Jigsaw, and here he is given ample screen time. He comes across as a Hannibal Lecter of sorts – smart and cunning. Let’s face it – the man is an amazing engineer. Donnie Wahlberg and Shawnee Smith are also quite good in their parts as the stressed out Matthews and Amanda, respectively. The supporting cast gets the job done despite several thankless roles.
Saw II is the best horror film of the year and it couldn’t be arriving at a better time. Fans of the original Saw should be ecstatic with what this new film has to offer. We could be looking at a full-fledged franchise depending upon box office receipts, and given that Whannell and Bousman have crafted a better film than its predecessor, count me in as someone who would eagerly await to see what they have up their sleeves next.
Studio: Lions Gate Films
Length: 91 Minutes
Rating: R for grisly violence and gore, terror, language and drug content.
Theatrical Release: October 28, 2005
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by: Darren Lynn Bousman & Leigh Whannell.
Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Donnie Wahlberg, Erik Knudsen, Franky G, Glenn Plummer