Saw 2

Reviewed By William Goss
Posted 10/28/05 14:42:10

"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Man, if any person has earned an A for effort, it would be the ever-diabolical Jigsaw (played with a sinister calm by Tobin Bell). Here is a guy who never actually murders anyone, but instead goes out of his way to set up elaborate traps, giving his victim the option to either appreciate their life or suffer a grisly death. In last year's 'Saw,' he trapped Cary Elwes in a bathroom with Leigh Whannell (co-writer of both films) and let them hack off limbs, among other bleak activities. This time around, in the cleverly-titled 'Saw II,' Jigsaw has himself captured so that he may reveal to bitter Detective Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg) his current scheme surrounding a booby-trapped house in which eight strangers reside, one of whom is the cop’s son. As if that weren’t enough, Jigsaw is still rotting away from the inside of terminal cancer. Now, come on. This man is undoubtedly deserving of some props, don’t you think?

Actually, so are co-writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman and Whannell for crafting a superior sequel to last year’s horror sensation. Gone, for the most part, are the choppy flashbacks and pathetic acting of the original. Except for a brief exposition concerning Jigsaw’s motives, the plot is a relatively linear one, which helps promote a better sense of urgency than the original ever could manage. Only three characters return from the first film: Jigsaw; Amanda (Shawnee Smith), a survivor who must once again escape his deathtraps; and Kerry (Dina Meyer), the lead investigator on the Jigsaw case.

While it would take much effort to achieve the level of pitiful performance Elwes accomplished in the first one, none of the sequel’s cast fall quite that far. Sure, some characters are relatively flat (fear not: Franky G will not let you forget how stubbornly macho his drug dealer is), but others do a suitable job of conveying whatever terror the scene calls for. Though he fulfills the gruff cop position better than Danny Glover tried to, Wahlberg’s angst-ridden role tends to get redundant as the story progresses.

However, the Saw series isn’t so much about characters as their gruesome demises, and therein lies the icky fun. Bousman and Whannell cook up a handful of cringe-inducing set pieces to speed up the ticking clock, with situations including (but not limited to) spikes, revolvers, syringes, and an Easy-Bake Oven of sorts. Of course, the whole affair’s excessively bleak and grungy, with yet another twisted ending to cast the preceding events in a different light. The same dingy cinematography and frantic editing that the first one used (including the annoying car-chase technique) return to establish a rather effective sense of continuity between the two. Fans wouldn’t expect anything less and should leave with their bloodlust satisfied. On the same token, anyone who could care less for Saw won’t be easily swayed by this effort.

At the end of the day, 'Saw II' boils down to little more than depraved schlock. However, it happens to be well-executed schlock at that, and this Halloween, one could do worse than take the time to recognize Jigsaw and his sadistic puzzle. After all, he’s put a lot of hard work into it.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.