In many ways, “Saw 2” is the archetypal sequel, attempting to top its predecessor simply by subscribing to the ‘more is more’ philosophy. Thus, instead of two men imprisoned in a room (as was the case in the original), we now have six people locked in a house filled with deadly traps, a scenario whose chief purpose is obviously to provide a higher body count and increased opportunities for sadistic carnage. Whilst this may elicit a cynical sigh from many viewers, the surprising result is that “Saw 2” is actually a marked improvement on the original, mainly due to the fact that most of “Saw’s” unnecessary, dross and vacuous flashback-reliant plotting has been stripped out and replaced with gory action.
Although “Saw 2” still has the same problems which afflicted its predecessor, namely labouring under the illusion of its own intelligence and having the appearance of being edited by a chop happy crack addict, here they are more easily forgiven as the film is less pretentious and more concerned with providing bloody, trashy entertainment. After an amusingly tacked on opening scene designed to reassure the viewer that Jigsaw is indeed up to his old tricks, the plot begins proper, following a burnt out detective named Mason (Donnie Wahlberg, “Band of Brothers”).
On top of having problems with his delinquent son and a career in freefall, Mason finds himself being asked for by name at the crime scene of self-help killer Jigsaw’s latest victim in a cryptic message written in blood. This leads Mason to Jigsaw himself, and more importantly to a horrifying discovery — that his son, along with five strangers, are trapped in a house with only two hours to find an antidote before the poisonous gas they are breathing brings them to a gruesome end. Their only hope is to engage in a series of fiendish and decidedly murderous games, while Mason on the outside attempts to interrogate Jigsaw, who it appears has other plans for all concerned.
By bringing in the extra characters, most of who are thinly disguised excuses for ironic death scenes, writer Leigh Whannell (who also scripted the original) gives the narrative a slasher film mentality, which actually suits the set up quite well and removes the uncomfortable need to spend extended bouts of time exploring back-story. Although the script still has the annoying habit of relying far too much on flashbacks for mock-complex exposition, at least this time around the majority is brief or has some kind of direct point, and there are considerably less scenes of characters simply reminiscing on dull domestic situations.
The main difference between the two films is that in this sequel Jigsaw has a proper onscreen presence, in a suspiciously “Se7en”-like role of taunting the main character and gradually ensnaring him in a nefarious scheme. Although most of his dialogue is predictable cod-philosophy, and his ultimate motivations somewhat suspect, Jigsaw still makes for a fairly original and interesting villain, and is a nice change from the usual masked teenager troublers that tread the modern horror genre.
Visually, the film is very similar to “Saw”, with director Darren Lynn Bousman choosing to emulate James Wan’s hyperactive theatrics and neon tinted colour scheme. Unfortunately, this means that a great deal of potential tension is squandered, and the visceral impact of several scenes are effectively castrated. To be fair, Bousman does manage to rein this in at times, allowing for some genuine suspense, though the overall impression is still that of a director in desperate need of valium.
In terms of gore, “Saw 2” certainly delivers, and there is a great deal of unpleasantness onscreen, and though much of it feels rather gratuitous, it helps to keep the viewer interested. Whannell has a talent for creating squirm inducing scenarios, and the film contains some moments of inspired nastiness. Unfortunately, most of these rely heavily on the innate stupidity of the characters and their complete inability to get to grips with the fact that most of Jigsaw’s instructions are based around lame irony or weak puns. Still, this in itself is entertaining in its own way, and very much par for the course with the series.
The main problem with the film is the final act, which has needless references to the original “Saw”, and a supposed twist ending which has been clearly signposted throughout. As well as being frustratingly obvious, the ending plot twist smacks of the worst kind of cynicism, and serves only to undermine the film’s bleak theme of hopelessness, leaving the viewer with a frustrated feeling of being sold down the river.
Although the ending does undo much of the good work which has gone before, “Saw 2” remains a film which exceeds expectations, and certainly stands above most modern genre efforts. Full-blooded and fast paced, it offers genre fans a solid slice of distinctly adult horror, and one which, however clumsily, at least attempts to employ cerebral as well as visceral shocks in its brand of madness.
Darren Lynn Bousman (director) / Darren Lynn Bousman, Leigh Whannell (screenplay)
CAST: Donnie Wahlberg …. Eric Matthews
Shawnee Smith …. Amanda
Tobin Bell …. Jigsaw
Franky G …. Xavier
Glenn Plummer …. Jonas
Dina Meyer …. Kerry
Emmanuelle Vaugier …. Addison
Beverley Mitchell …. Laura