A sequel to the sadistic smash of 2004 was inevitable. The question is, would it work as a film? Could they craft a story that would be worthy of committing to film? In the end questions like that matter not. Throw enough depravity on the screen and the kids will come. I know, because I went.
The thing that it offers the horror fan is a film that delivers the blood. They say it right in the trailers and commercials, “Oh yes… there will be blood.” It is said as if to reassure the gorehounds that you will be treated to a film that contains carnage. All too often films get billed as horror, get released in a PG-13 cut, and end up a disappointment. That isn’t to say that those bloodless films aren’t horror, or that they aren’t any good, although that seems to be the overriding result.
I liked the first Saw. It was no classic, although it could still attain that notoriety. It provided a twisted tale filled with blood and twisted traps. Saw also introduced us to Jigsaw, a killer set free by the onset of terminal cancer. A status which has freed him to do his work without fear. That film was not without its problems, but this is neither the time, nor the place.
Saw II exists solely to string together scenes of bloodletting and torture. There is nothing wrong with that, but it would have been nice to have a strong story to back up the sadistic scenes. My biggest problem with the movie, and the original too for that matter, is that there are seeds throughout that could have led to a stronger story. The reasons for our killer to be so fervent in his work is his desire to have proof that they want to live. The thought of a killer targeting those who he perceives as not deserving their lives is intriguing. That thought could be used to spawn a psychological thriller that also delivers the blood. Instead, that concept is just the window dressing for the twisted traps and bloody games which take center stage and make up the meat of the movie.
Saw II opens with the scene that has played, partially, in the trailers. It is the death mask trap, which is a variation on the reverse bear trap that started the first. It’s job is to show that the sickness is still intact and set the stage for the gore to come.
There are two primary locations for the conflict. The first is in Jigsaw’s lair, where he has been tracked by the police. It is also where disgraced detective, Eric Mason, must deal with our cancer ridden psycho. On the other side of the room is a glimpse of our other primary location. Shift over to the house, this is where our 8 participants are trying to deal with the situation, which continually worsens, and each other.
Most of the interesting stuff happens in the house, at least in terms of the gore. The house is rigged with a variety of traps with which to torment its guests. Needles, razor trapped boxes, a pistol, a whole variety of ways to make our inmates suffer.
The acting is about average for this sort of exercise. They aren’t really given much to do outside of screaming in horror and yelling at each other. Donnie Wahlberg does a decent job of portraying our tormented detective, while Tobin Bell is suitably creepy as Jigsaw. Over at the house we have Franky G as our increasingly manic houseguest, and Shawnee Smith as Amanda, a survivor of the first film.
The plot has enough turns in it to keep it from getting dull. I especially like the ways the first film was tied into this one. There is even a setup allowing for a third in the franchise.
I must take a moment to speak on something that bugged me, but doesn’t matter much in the big picture. In movies like these, the killer tends to have a certain MO that they work by. That plan would expand as the film went on or stay along the same lines. In the Saw films, there are one-offs, like the death mask, and there are the group games, like the house trap. Now why would he change his methods, seemingly at random? It’s not really a big deal, but it just stuck in my head. What is it about his work that would determine if the victim is worthy of being tested alone, or in a group?
Darren Lynn Bousman directed and co-wrote the feature, making his big screen debut. It is a decent start. Some of the scenes appear to be abruptly cut and distracting, but given a shot at a non-sequel, he may be able to develop a style of his own. Leigh Whannell was the other writer; he also wrote and co-starred in the original.
Bottomline. Not up to the level of the original, but it does deliver the bloody goods. I only wish that one day we will get a theatrically released slasher type film that also has a story. Decent performances and copious amounts of inventive deaths spur this one to a watchable conclusion.