this review I am going to give away a terrible secret:
thoroughly enjoyed Saw II.
I totally bitch-slapped the original film
a year ago, I’ll probably spend most of this review justifying why
this one’s better. If you liked the original, you can stop reading
and just buy your ticket now. And while you’re at it, don’t
ever show your bad-movie-loving face in these parts again, muthafucka!
of the rare instances when a sequel far outshines it predecessor (Jeepers
Creepers 2 is one of the others that comes to mind), the follow-up
to the wildly successful and even more wildly overrated Saw
improves on its source material in terms of complexity, thrills, and basic
craftsmanship. While it’s far from perfect, this “bigger,
faster, more” take on the now-familiar Jigsaw killer scenario improves
on most of the mistakes of the original, although it naturally makes a
few new ones along the way. When I say “bigger, faster, more”,
I’m of course referring to more men in boxer-briefs and Puerto Rican
bodybuilders. When I say “new mistakes”, I of course mean
the other 7 people in the house.
#1: No more Carey Elwes and Danny Glover.
If there’s one thing the serial slasher genre doesn’t need,
it’s legitimate actors. Here the cast is just random and obscure
enough to let us know that these characters are all fair game for the
grinder, and more importantly, no one is tempted to break into any histrionic
fits of “acting”, which spun the original into camp territory
long before the story had a chance to dig its claws in. We’ve got
some returning characters: Tobin Bell has far more face-time
this go-round as the mad genius cancer victim Jigsaw, and finally has
the chance to explain himself and his “work”. And my favorite
character from the original, the jaw-trap victim Amanda (The Blob’s
Shawnee Smith) gets a far bulkier role this time as she
once again finds herself at the mercy of the murderer. The only recurring
character who I would have preferred to have seen left in a razorwire
cage is Dina Meyer, who apparently didn’t get the
memo that the ham-fisted acting style of the original flick has been retired
for a more somber, serious approach. Somebody get this girl a paper bag.
#2: The chick from “Seventh Heaven”. No, the other chick.
The new additions do a fine job: Donnie Wahlberg follows
up on the promise of his blink-and-miss-it turn in The Sixth Sense
and effectively sidesteps being labeled as nothing more than Mark’s
brother (memo to Frank Stallone) by turning in a layered,
convincing performance as beleaguered detective Eric Mason, whose son
is one of a group of people taken captive by Jigsaw in a sealed house.
The other prisoners – who have 2 hours to get out of the house before
the gas that they are breathing reduces their internal tissues to liquid
– include mousy-brown Beverly Mitchell (the “other
sister” from Seventh Heaven, who must have taken
career advice from big sis Jessica Biel), jacked-up Franky
G (Johnny Zero) and disposably hot Emmanuelle
Vaugier (One Tree Hill), among others –
none of whom are dealing very well with their situation. As usual, the
Jigsaw has left them with a way out – all they need to do is work
together as a team to reach the solution. But given that the group seems
to be made up of drug dealers, informants, junkies, and other assorted
miscreants – all of whom are starting to cough up blood –
this is not exactly Kumbaya territory.
#3: Actual scare scenes.
The film starts off with a predictable return to form, with a shirtless,
nameless victim (okay, it’s Michael – like that means anything)
strapped into one of Jigsaw’s devices: a head-trap thing that will
likely snap shut before the opening titles, turning the fella’s
cranium into swiss cheese. Aside from setting into motion the events of
the film (Michael’s crime scene will kick the rest of the story
into motion), there’s also a point being made here: this ain’t
yo daddy’s Saw. Whereas the first film nipped at the heels of a
serial killer, stumbling across the messy outcomes of the sadistic “games”
he played with the members of society he felt deserved a bit of a challenge,
in the sequel we watch the games as they are being played out.
makes a world of difference when it comes to creating tension on the screen
– unlike the first film, where we knew the outcome of nearly all
the “suspense” scenes (as they were mostly told in flashback),
here we have no idea who might live or die. Bodies begin to pile up within
the house as Mason and his team watch from Jigsaw’s lair on video
monitors, trying to find the source of the video feed and get to the survivors
before their innards come out their noses. But meanwhile, it seems like
Jigsaw might be playing a game with Mason himself – one that may
or may not be related to what’s going on in the house. The parallel
plot gimmick didn’t work for me in the original because it was mired
in cheese, and the central twist was just a little too predictable. But
here the setup is much more complex and fun to wrestle with, and writer/director
Bousman is far better able to distract you from the man behind the curtain,
leading to a far more satisfying finale. Is there a twist? Actually, there
are several. Can I talk about them? Errr… no. But I was tipped off
going in that there would be a final-act gimmick (what’s a horror
thriller these days without one?), and I still found the trick and its
revealing to be deliciously well-designed.
#4: Testicle-shrinking moment of the year.
But enough about structure and tone and all that crap: is there blood?
Oh yes, there is. It’s literally being coughed up by the 8 people
in the house, and it finds other ways to make it out of their bodies and
onto the floor and walls, as well. But the nastiest moment – probably
one of the most cringe-inducing of the year – doesn’t involve
much blood at all, but rather a pit filled with hypodermic needles. I
won’t say anything more other than it’s prolonged and very,
very unpleasant-looking (it actually trumps my long-standing Worst Moment
Involving a Hypodermic in Bad
Dreams). I was actually hoping for more contraptions and
dismemberment (honestly – you go to see a movie called Saw, you’re
expecting to exorcise very particular demons), but I’ll take old-fashioned
suspense over gore anyday.
#1: People still stupid, deserving of painful death.
First, don’t let the advertising fool you: the majority of this
movie does not take place inside that booby-trapped house, despite how
much we might want it to. I’m a huge fan of locked-room movies,
so I was really looking forward to spending time watching these folks
deal with their situation, like in Cube or the early
scenes of the original film. The fact that over half of the film is a
police procedural involving Jigsaw and detective Mason didn’t thrill
me at first, but the story is interesting enough on its own and dovetails
into the house story so nicely that I can understand its importance. But
overall, less attention is paid to the house “tricks” than
I was hoping for. The captives are given a fairly easy clue to decipher
at the start of the game (involving “Over the Rainbow”, of
all things – although no one bothers to give the clue even a second
thought, instead opting to try to bash their way out of the house) and
the subsequent tricks are fairly uninspired and inconsistent. A few of
the prisoners don’t end up revealing anything about themselves,
which kind of begs the question as to why their characters even exist
in the first place. But still, things keep moving along, so I let this
#2: The hell that Gatorade commercials hath wrought.
Then there’s the question of the editing, which I’ll address
very simply: ENOUGH WITH THE FUCKING CUTTING. In several
scenes, Bousman is able to effectively create tension without running
the footage through a Cuisinart. So why resort to the tired, overused
crutch of rapid-fire, seizure-inducing smash-cuts? It’s just got
to stop, people – nothing kills a suspense scene faster than a spontaneous
migraine in your frontal lobe. Thankfully, it only happens twice in the
film – but it does ruin those two scenes, which could have been
very intense. If this trend continues (see also: Dawn
of the Dead, Saw, Venom,
House of the
Dead), we'll have nothing left of horror films but jumpy,
disjointed assortments of random images set to bad rap-metal. And really,
we already have Chris Cunningham videos for that.
that’s all I can say without giving anything away that might interfere
with your enjoyment of Saw II– and I actually do want you to enjoy
it, as opposed to disregard it or slap it about the face and neck, like
its predecessor. So while the evil 8-year-old in me would like to give
away the ending, I won’t. Instead, I’ll give away the ending
of a different movie: she’s
a schizophrenic lesbian! See, when a film’s actually
good, I would rather respect the filmmaker’s effort and let you
experience the flick as it was meant to be experienced (unlike hackneyed
psychobabble duds like Hide
and Seek, which I’ll gladly defuse for anyone to save
them the $3 rental fee). And while Saw II is not perfect, it doesn’t
have any delusions about what it is or what it’s there to do: it’s
a fun, catchy thriller – not a character piece. This important distinction
from its misguided predecessor means the difference between an engaging
popcorn flick and an unintentionally hilarious misfire.