We Dare You Again....It is almost a year to the day that I reviewed Saw for AVForums, looking back at that review brings back fond memories of how thrilling a no budgeter horror can really be. It's the ideas that work, those grim, chilling, nerve wrecking choices forced upon the unfortunates that really makes your skin crawl. You squirm, cower and try to shut out the inevitable, but to no avail. The Dance of Death has begun; the Reaper will have his soul. Such was the energy of Saw, it was then inevitable that a sequel would be commissioned. Amazingly the screen play chosen was originally for another film entirely, writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman found that his film “The Desperate” was violent for the major studios to produce and ironically too Saw-ish; it was not until Saw itself became such a hit that the project was green lit but then only as a fully fledged sequel, to this end Saw screen writer Leigh Whannel was brought on board to 'sequalise' the script. Shot in twenty five days and entirely studio bound (even the exterior shots were just outside the studio) Saw 2 tries valiantly to recapture that energy of its predecessor by taking just the right elements and telling a different story, just like all the best sequels do.
It seems Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is up to his old tricks. Detective Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg) is having a little trouble with his rebellious teenage son. To make matters worse, Jigsaw has struck again and named Mathews personally at the crime scene. Mathews makes an intuitive guess as to Jigsaw's hideout, summons the S.W.A.T. teams and Detective Kerry (Dina Meyer reprising her role) and swoop into the lair. Jigsaw allows himself to be captured but has one final game left with simple rules; he and Mathews are to just sit and talk. This is ordeal is made all the more horrific because Jigsaw has taken eight hostages, including Mathews' son and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) the lone survivor of Jigsaw's traps before and imprisoned them in a house full of his signatory traps. If that is not enough they only have two hours to find the antidote to the deadly nerve gas they have been breathing in since they arrived. With Jigsaw refusing to give up the location of the house the police are forced to watch as each victim in turn succumbs to his or her own specific torture. Will Mathews be able to play by the rules, or will he break them to save his son, possibly condemning them both?
As much as the makers have tried to make it the same, Saw 2 is a very different animal from its forbearer. By using the same cinematographer and the same editor both films do look and act exactly the same. There is a very similar tone, an overriding sense of despair and impotence at a situation. But where the films do significantly diverge is in the focus. Saw's concentration on the two men in the bathroom lent a feeling claustrophobia to the proceedings; by opening up the platform to a house, and then further to the capture of Jigsaw and the police watching the house on monitors, that sense is diminished. Its replacement by urgency (the two hours to find the antidote, Mathews to find his son) works for the thriller aspects of the film but what it lacks most of all is that depressing sense of inevitability, that worked so well in the original. No matter how many twists and turns are in the script to keep you off guard and to keep you interested, without that inevitability that one has come to dread the film looses that certain something.
However, where Bousman's script does win is on the out is on the body count and blood letting; gore hounds with have much to admire and horror fanatics will gorge themselves on the red. And credit where credit is due, the script does throw enough curve balls to keep you guessing, the fact that Jigsaw, the main protagonist, is captured within the first fifteen minutes of the film is enough to keep most off guard. I also loved the way he tied both films neatly together at the end, even if I did manage to spot the final twist coming. Though while there is much for the good in the script I did come away feeling slightly cheated. Let me explain, Saw was fresh, inventive and energetic; Saw 2 comes over as inventive and energetic but lacks the freshness, and to compensate Bousman upped the body count and throws more blood at the screen to hide these shortfalls. Of course this common with all sequels and conscious of that fact Bousman played to the strengths of the original by filling the house with some of the nastiest, toe curling traps, as it is the traps that Saw is famous for. The slight downside being a higher number of traps demands a higher number of victims, and that is exactly how each one comes across. Each captive wears his or her red shirt with pride even in their clichéd roles. Whilst their plight might be engaging their characters are not as they are set up purely for Jigsaw's traps.
Outside of the house it is a different story Donnie Wahlberg as Eric Mathews gives a fine performance, always borderline anger and anguish as the film progresses and we come to realise he is not quite the character we believe him to be; his decent into mania is worth all the other performances alone, with the possible exception of Tobin Bell. In what was a throw away part in the original Bell just oozes charisma, and he is even given a reasonably believable back story to account for his actions. So whilst the acting calibre is never going to win awards it is far superior to the original and better than most horror sequels to boot.
So, what are we left with? Saw 2 is an engaging script with enough good acting and bloodletting to remain a decent flick; it is similar in tone to the original, keeping enough to please the fans and upping the game to win a few new ones. Personally I felt with the increased budget and glossier sheen the film looks better than the original but it doesn't quite measure up to beating it. At the end of the credits its effectiveness as a horror sequel is assured, for whilst it is never as inventive as the original in terms of that final twist, it is efficient in achieving goal.
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