Saw II Review
It was inevitable. After the success of the first Saw movie - the 12th most profitable film in “Hollywood movie” history, a sequel was a given. But, like the Blair Witch Project before it, having a successful part one doesn't necessarily guarantee a successful, or even an effective horror sequel. You need to grow the concept, make the sequel something that is a separate entity, but still a part of the original's milieu. Not as far as Halloween 3, mind, but you do need to do something different. So, does Saw 2 vindicate its own existence or is it merely Saw 1 with a bigger budget?
Saw 2 is essentially a re-tread of the original, but with more people and more deaths. Saw 1 has only two people and one room, whereas in Saw 2 Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) traps eight people in a whole, albeit securely locked up, house. Unfortunately for those inside, this house is slowly being filled with a nerve agent that will have everyone bleeding from every orifice within two hours. In three hours the doors will open and anyone left standing can leave. The justification of why Jigsaw does this is to teach ignorant people the error of their ways by making them face death within the context of their own lives. For those in the house these tests all involve “winning” an antidote to the nerve agent, but winning is slightly more arduous than a round of scrabble.
In parallel to the house side of Saw 2, Jigsaw's sights are aimed at detective Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg) whose relationship with his son is deteriorating fast. Mathews is lured into Jigsaw's lair for a bit of one to one chit chat while video footage of events within the house are fed into the lair, too. It transpires that one of the people inside the house is Mathew's son - all the good detective has to do is talk to Jigsaw for long enough and his son will be safe. Sounds easy, but this is Jigsaw and nothing is as it seams...
So that's the story, what's the movie like? Well, I wasn't too fond of the original. There were some distinctly uncomfortable moments, but Saw was just a glue to stick together a series of uncompromising death scenes - The story, such as it was, was only mildly engrossing. Saw 2 tries to add a degree of emotion by having Mathew's son in imminent danger. This does work to a degree, but you never get your teeth into the concept. This is due to Saw 2's continual focus on OTT gore and spatter inside the house rather than any degree of emotional subtlety.
This is a shame as I thought that the detective side of things was far more engrossing. Indeed, Tobin Bell is mesmerising as Jigsaw, with a breathtaking malevolence bubbling under the surface. I would love to have seen his take on Hannibal Lector as, frankly, Tobin's relaxed approach is infinitely more chilling and more akin to Brian Cox than Anthony Hopkins.
Having said that, any franchise has its on buttons - something that viewers will want to watch from the first movie. Saw, as I said before, majors on all out wince inducing scenes that will have you gasping with shock. The first movie had some goodies, but Saw 2 takes things a step further. This is mainly due to character interactions as there is a larger cast from which to draw upon. Anyone who has seen the needle pit scene will know how character interaction can turn an already dire circumstance into a shocking one.
In this respect Saw 2 does indeed make some strides over the original, and I would also cite the ending as particularly well done. However, I still cannot shake off a sense of shallow achievement. Absolutely the budget is small and what has been achieved with that budget is remarkable. However, compared to the granddaddy of this ilk - Se7en -the Saw franchise has some growing up to do if it is to avoid future efforts becoming stale.
Second Opinion - Neil Wilson
Saw II strikes me as a film of opposites uneasily stitched together. In its succinct hour and a half runtime the film runs the whole gamut of cinematic expectation. It's in equal parts tiredly predictable and startling original, banal and hackneyed yet inventive and intelligent, and tired and lazy whilst being exciting and superbly constructed. The film certainly makes a valiant effort to scale the heights of its smash hit predecessor. Unfortunately, little has been learned from the mistakes of the original. What we are left with is an enjoyable, resourceful, yet widely uneven chiller, with pretty much the same contrast of brilliance and ineptitude which characterised the first instalment. Right from the off, it seemed a dubious decision (and one apparently motivated entirely by money and not artistic licence) to even attempt to produce a sequel to such a curious and original conceit as was offered in the original film. Saw II to its credit, does show that to an extent the franchise still just about had the legs to carry it through this sequel, although the first 45 minutes or so have you scratching your head wondering if that is indeed the case. It's certainly a film of two halves. The initial setup is laboured, not altogether convincing and about as sure a sign that the idea to carry on the jigsaw murders was a mistake. The whole 'Big Brother' style layout is getting a bit tiresome now, it didn't work for My Little Eye, or Halloween: Resurrection, and the whole scenario suffers from over exposure here. All the assembled characters come straight out of an idiots guide to establishing character in a hackneyed Hollywood thriller. The victims are formed from the usual ragtag ensemble of fast talkers and weirdo's, none of whom are even moderately interesting or particularly well thought out. Donnie Wahlberg's identi-kit cop on the edge with family problems sees him floundering on a script full of bluster and cheesy one-liners, and he's not helped by the fact that sharing his load is the desperately two-dimensional, tough talkin' police chick Kerry (Dina Meyer), one of the few returning characters from the original. However, like the first instalment, once you get past the poorly set up characters, wooden acting, and George Lucas-esque ear for bad dialogue, there is much to enjoy here. The film is still wonderfully ingenious when it comes to delivering gruesome pain, and the last twenty minutes or so pretty much match anything in the first movie. Despite its somewhat characteristic approach to certain aspects of conventional horror filmmaking, there is certainly something dark and uncompromising about the Saw movies that help elevate them from mindless mediocre fodder to something a touch more interesting and unconventional. The film takes a sadistic glee in dispatching its characters in numerous spectacular and maddeneningly evil ways, and if anything the irritating and unsympathetic nature of most of the protagonists helps bring that little extra merciless enjoyment when they bite the dust. The film copes well with the fact that the surprise element that was used to such great effect in Saw has been replaced by familiarity, and really the fact that it retreads old ground is never as big an issue as you would expect it to be. The denouement, although a touch improbable is also satisfying dark and uncompromising, and the finale certainly packs a punch that will have you captivated as much as anything else likely to come out of Hollywood screen this year. Despite his obvious flaws Wahlberg provides a surprisingly engaging leading man, producing a performance about as good as one could ever hope for from an ex-New Kid on the Block. Although a textbook cliché cut from the age-old cloth, it's a far better (if less unintentionally amusing) effort than the otherwise trustworthy Danny Glover's bewilderingly atrocious turn in the original. The acting on the whole from a team of unknowns is fairly drab and uninspirational in a straight-to-rental kind of way, but at least there are no hilariously overwrought scenes of Carey Elwes-style emotional breakdown. Although is that a good or a bad thing I wonder? Stretching things out to a mooted third instalment will probably be a sequel too far for the series. Unless of course they bring back more of that strangely creepy tricycle-riding puppet that appears again albeit all too briefly here. Saw II is a flawed yet intriguing movie. Much like its predecessor, its close but no cigar.