Saw II (2005)

Darren Lynn Bousman

STARRINGDonnie Wahlberg - Detective Eric Matthews
Tobin Bell - John Kramer/Jigsaw
Shawnee Smith - Amanda Young
Emmanuelle Vaugier - Addison
Franky G - Xavier
Beverley Mitchell - Laura
Erik Knudsen - Daniel Matthews
Dina Meyer - Detective Kerry

Year - 2005

Score - 3 Howls Outta 4

Good horror sequels are like the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack when they're released one year after its predecessor. The FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels were guilty of this after they were pretty much released one right after the other back in the 1980s, each becoming more derivative [yet still entertaining] as they went on, although some sequels were better than others. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET had a great sequel in DREAM WARRIORS [part 3] but released THE DREAM MASTER [part 4] a year later and THE DREAM CHILD [part 5] a year after that, each sequel getting worse and worse. And who can forget the HALLOWEEN franchise, releasing a great sequel in HALLOWEEN 4 but following it up with the horrible HALLOWEEN 5 a year later. Personally, I feel horror franchises should wait at least 2 years in between installments so we can catch our breaths and actually want to see these films. Plus it would give the writers and producers time to think of good ideas that wouldn't be borrowing heavily from its predecessor.

SAW is the latest franchise who seems to be following the 80s trend by releasing film after film each year. 2004's SAW was an excellent film, showing that horror could be smart and gory at the same time. Did people want to see another one? Absolutely. The ending was fantastic, making us want to know more about Jigsaw and his motives. People just didn't realize it would be released so soon after the first one. SAW II was released in October of 2005, which started a Halloween tradition since. Every year we expect a new SAW film. While that's nice to fans and maybe a good marketing move to the studios, doesn't rushing into production hurt this franchise more than help it? If SAW II is any case, rushing into production is actually helping the franchise financially, as it made more cash than the original. Too bad on-screen, SAW II is not an improvement over the original, although surprisingly it has a lot to offer.

PLOTPolice detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg, not the guy from BOY MEETS WORLD) is the new lead detective in the Jigsaw murders case once he's called out by the madman. He leads a group of police officers, including Detective Kerry (Dina Meyer), to an abandoned factory where John Kramer/Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is sitting and waiting for them. Dying of cancer yet still testing people's morality on life and death, Kramer shows the detectives a live video feed of seven people, including Eric's son Daniel (Erik Knudsen) and Jigsaw's previous victim Amanda (Shawnee Smith), who have been abducted by Jigsaw and placed in a house that is booby-trapped. The seven abductees must find a way to work together and piece clues together in order to escape the house, due to nerve gas in the air that will kill them in about two hours. This situation allows Jigsaw and Eric to see eye-to-eye, as Jigsaw is testing Eric at the same time.

SAW II is an entertaining film that doesn't let up from beginning to end. Inspired by the film CUBE, we're the audience of a group of people struggling to find something in common in order to escape an inevitable death. While the increased number of victims from the first film allows us to see more traps and more blood and guts, we lose character development and intimate moments that made the first SAW so great. That, my friends, is what you call a case of sequelitis. And this film suffers from it, although it handles it a lot better than most horror sequels.

One symptom of sequelitis is poorer direction. Newcomer at the time, Darren Lynn Bousman, directs the film pretty well. We still get this mood filled with dread. We still get crazy angles. We still have tension filled sequences that keep building and building up to the great twist ending [and what a great twist it is]. The pacing is also well-done. However, previous director James Wan added a kind of energy to the original SAW that Bousman, for some reason, can't duplicate as much. And his editor needs to lay off the quick cutting action because it really destroys the important sequences involving the death traps. One in particular, Emmanuelle Vaugier's trap scene where her arms are trapped in blades in order to find an antidote for the nerve gas, is completely destroyed at the end because of these quick flashes and edits. Isn't the point of these films to SHOW how gruesome the deaths of these people are? While the first one did have edits like these, the sequel has a lot more and they just annoy me. Ruins the mood for me, sorry.

The lack of character development is also another symptom of sequelitis. The first SAW was great because it only had a few characters, with each of them having a backstory and an arc that connected each of them to a believable conclusion. With more people to deal with in a shorter amount of time [this SAW is the shortest of the four], we have characters who we don't really care about. Aside from Amanda [due to her involvement in the first film], Daniel Matthews, and Franky G's character Xavier, the other characters have "cannon fodder" tattooed on their foreheads. No intimacy between these abductees. Nothing that gives us any glimpse of depth of who these people are. It feels less like a psychological thriller and more like a slasher film with characters who are so annoying and unlikable that we want them to die in horrible ways! I actually rooted for Jigsaw to kill most of them! While some people may enjoy that, I like my characters to have some sort of likability in them.

However, the film is way more creative than its predecessor. The traps are much more vicious and psychologically traumatizing. They're obviously the film's main attraction. The oven death, the spiked bat to the cranium, the peephole death with the gun...they're pretty nifty. Too bad we don't really see much blood, due to those quick cuts, but it's there somewhere.

The best moment of the film is, of course, the ending. For someone who pretty much can get twist endings before they're actually shown, these SAW films really fool me into believing something else. I won't say what the ending is if you haven't seen it, but it's actually more believable than the original's ending. The clues were obviously there [which you can see on a repeated viewing] but you never see the answer until the actual ending. I actually clapped when once the film went to the end credits. Just brilliant screenwriting by Bousman and Leigh Whannell [who co-wrote the original and starred in it].

The acting is okay. I mean, with so many characters it's hard for someone to really grab the spotlight. I thought Donnie Wahlberg did a good job as Detective Matthews. He used constant F-bombs to make him sound like a badass. But at the same time, he was vulnerable and I sort of felt bad for him. I mean, he obviously wasn't a great guy or your typical hero, but he was put in a position I would never want to be put in, so I felt kind of sorry for his plight. Tobin Bell was very good as Jigsaw. For some reason, I find the man's voice really creepy and intimidating. He may not look like much, but the wheels in his brain are turning continuously. People like that are the dangerous ones we have to watch out for. I thought Bell and Wahlberg had some very excellent scenes during the interrogation, really bringing out depth and personality in both of their characters. Really intense stuff that I totally believed. Great job.

Dina Meyer got more to do here, which is good, but she still didn't impress me with her acting. I mean, if you can call looking at monitors "acting", then she was awesome. Shawnee Smith returned with a vengeance in a beefier role for Amanda. She sold it throughout the entire film, as she was one of the few people abducted that I wanted to make it out alive. I'm sure most of know how her character turns out, but it was captivating to watch her. Her syringe scene in that pit made me cringe. Wow, that's just one fucked up trap - especially if you're a former junkie.

Franky G was also cool as Xavier, the main villain in the house among the abductees. He was the true epitome of a heartless prick, but I liked him since he actually showed a personality that the others lacked. Man, Jigsaw's a wuss next to this guy. He had to be Latino too. Thanks for the horrible stereotype, guys. Everyone else did okay, but didn't really contribute much.

SAW II isn't as good as the original SAW, but it's still a very entertaining film that you'll have fun watching from beginning to end. Especially if you like to see a bunch of characters without personality die in horrible ways. 

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