Saw II (2005)
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Donnie Wahlberg,Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Erik Knudsen, Franky G, Tim Burd, Glenn Plummer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Beverley Mitchell, Dina Meyer, Lyriq Bent
(out of 4)
Kevin Greutert’s jumpy, frantic editing notwithstanding, I dare say that Saw II is a marked improvement over the schizophrenic original, while realizing that this might make me an enemy of some Saw purists out there who only see merit in the first pic and disdain the followups. Granted – the lapses in logic, scope of the traps, and unbelievability of events that unfold in its closed universe can be laughably absurd (and gets worse with each installment), but then again, it’s this very self-containment that makes it easier for me to overlook these kinds of flaws, kind of like watching a comic book movie. Finding its place comfortably between James Wan’s original and the sequels that follow, Saw II actually rips off the Cube movies, of all things, as the central plot revolves around the inhabitants of a booby-trapped house trying to escape with their lives. Like the first film, they all have secrets – and some of these people are real assholes, too.
Unlike most serial killer films, Saw II makes the decision early on to bring its bad guy out into the light (throughout the movie there also seems to be a lot of light switches being thrown, exposing all the roaches that are caught in their “traps”). The guy that everybody calls Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) refers to himself as John, and explains to his new chosen mark Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) that the puzzle pieces cut from his victims were only meant to symbolize that they each had something “missing” that would have enabled them to survive his deadly games. So we get to see a little more of this guy’s philosophy, which seems to involve a bit of Darwinism, life-lesson teaching, and the belief that some people need to undergo traumatic experiences in order to come out stronger and appreciative of life. Fabulous, dude. You’re Tyler Durden mixed with Hannibal Lector and sent to engineering school for 10 years. I think I’ll just pay for a shrink or maybe go skydiving, thanks.
Matthews is a dirty cop, abusive to suspects and not above planting evidence on people to get a conviction, but his real crime is that he doesn’t properly appreciate his teenage son Daniel (Erik Knudsen). Jigsaw makes him the target, attracting him to his web by planting clues to his location at the scene of one of his victims. (It’s a pretty big assumption – thinking that Matthews will remember the clue in a dream and act on it, but hey, maybe the backup plan was for Jigsaw to call him on the phone). Once our anguished detective realizes that Daniel has been kidnapped and thrown into a house-of-horrors with only a few hours to escape with his life, he has a hard time obeying our dungeon master’s wishes to just sit down and talk. In the meantime, we watch the game play out on the monitors in Jigsaw’s lair; Bousman’s camera will switch back and forth between these two scenes. The house game is setup like this: various characters, having been exposed to Sarin gas, must find the antidotes that are spread around the house in various locations. The one location that probably doesn’t come with a high price (like being burned to death or falling into a pit of needles) is a safe in the room, with a combination that is cryptically described by Jigsaw as being “in the back of your minds.” A secret ties all of the unfortunate players together, which would spell big trouble for one of them if it were known. Thrown in the mix is Amanda (Shawnee Smith), former Saw game-player who you might remember was a junkie forced to kill a guy to escape her reverse-bear-trap. The biggest asshole is Xavier (Franky G), a hulking drug dealer/gangster type. Guess who’s destined to be the movie’s Quentin?
Saw II relies on sequences that are more disconcerting than scary. Many of the traps in the film, unlike the intricate setups in the later sequels, are rather old school in nature. Take the hidden gun behind the door set to go off with a key, the furnace that burns up one guy, or the rather nasty pit of needles that Xavier throws Amanda into (Jigasaw hides an antidote in there, saying it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Haha!) Other than a rather nifty wrist trap (never just stick your hands into a Saw trap, silly), we don’t get too much horror from the devices themselves, but more from the nasty effects of the poison gas, and some icky killings done by the increasingly unhinged Xavier character. I think the final scenes play rather well, and I personally liked the twist ending, which, considering this is a Saw movie, relies on a trick so simple that it was easy to overlook. In an attempt to come full circle, the movie brings us back to the bathroom of the first film, which is the beginning of the series’ tendency to have characters wind up in the same lair like Elm Street folks always waking up in Freddy’s house or boiler room. However, the story progression (for the most part) is linear, unlike later sequels which would jump back and forth through time without telling you.
In the end, Saw II wants to talk about immortality, drawing parallels between the father living on through his son, and the cancer-ridden Jigsaw living on through his work. The film won’t win points for originality, but it is more focused, clever, and confident than its predecessor, even if I can’t take its attempt at moralizing one bit seriously. I think Jigsaw would have been better off spending his time building a better car engine or designing a nice skyscraper, but hey, to each his own.
- Bill Gordon