By: Hunter Daniels
If you’ve never written a review, let me tell you, avoiding hyperbole is one of the hardest things to do when you like a film. Luckily, I’ve been burdened with this problem a lot lately. Hostel, Feast and now Saw II are all films that just make me bubble with joy because, well, I’m a sick shit, and these movies are fucking sick.
Saw II is a leaner, meaner, more focused and more cruel entry into this budding series of pseudo snuff films. It is Wrath of Kahn to Saw’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It is The Godfather Part II to Saw’s Godfather Part One. The plot is denser, and more filled with tricks, the traps are more ghastly and the characters are better drawn, the gore is more plentiful and the finale is more satisfying. Basically, it’s better in pretty much every imaginable way.
It’s odd, for a Hollywood follow up to an indie film, this movie sure seems harder and further from the mainstream. It will hurt the films box office to be sure, how evil the film is, but it was the right move for the series integrity and the filmmakers deserve some serious credit for that. They’ve crafted a revolting, truly vile assault on the senses, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. They have made a film that works on every level a horror movie needs to, and one that makes the original a better film. All sequels should be this good.
The plot is simple, 8 strangers in a room wake up and play Jigsaw’s games while Jigsaw himself is being captured and interrogated by the police. But it’s all much more complex that it first appears. Yes I figured it out half way through, but all the twists make sense in this one, and the overall story is much more cohesive. If the first film was trying for a Rubix-Cube effect, this one really achieves it.
The traps are glorious, and I love that we don’t even get an explanation for all of them. There is something truly satisfying to my modernist impulses that we don’t hear all the tapes, we don’t know what all the clues were for. That the mystery is never REALLY solved. What was the rope Shawnee Smith finds for? What is actually behind many of the doors? Who was the blades game intended for? We never find out, and I like that. We do however find the answers to some of Saw’s biggest cliffhangers. Both Adam and Dr. Gordon have ‘cameos’ in this film tying it to the first.
Still, the same problems that plagued the first film continue on into the sequel. Jigsaw is just petty with his choices; it doesn’t seem worth the effort. And when you find out the twist, you realize that if anything different had happened in the game, the entire plot line couldn’t have worked. Jigsaw wanted these people to die? His motives aren’t clear and again he breaks is basic M.O. Also a problem is that Jigsaw is basically an elaborate Deus Ex Machina, so when the script tries to develop him, even though he gets all the best lines and Tobin Bell does his damnedest, Jigsaw just doesn’t feel like a real person. And it doesn’t help matters that his back story is pretty boring.
Some of the acting is atrocious. Frankie G. is painfully miscast as Xavier. He is just torture to watch every moment he is on screen. He’s better than Whannell or Ewes, but barely. Worse yet, his character goes psycho half way through the film for no apparent reason. But if he hadn’t gone psycho, the rest of the plot wouldn’t work. Balancing this out though is impressive work by Shawnee Smith, (who looks a lot like Brodie Dalie of The Distillers fame in this picture) reprising her role as Amanda, everyone’s favorite Jigsaw victim, back for more abuse. She really anchors the cast and works as a good plot device to prevent having to figure out who Jigsaw is all over again. Glenn Plummer as Jonas is also notable. The rest of the cast just bickers and dies in turn. Which will be fine for most audiences, but having seen Cube I know Saw II could have done much better with its characters.
This movie’s biggest flaw is that it suffers from screaming syndrome. Too often filmmakers think that having characters yell at each other equals tension; it doesn’t. From the moment the cast wakes up in the house they are screaming and bickering. Barely a natural impulse. I’ve never seen people just start yelling before they’re even confused. And the things these people say to each other; if I talked like that I would be slapped regularly. Why is it that in movies people get to be totally vicious to one another with no consequence. It may seem tiny but it really pulled me out of the film.
All in all, SAW II is an improvement on its predecessor; I just wish it could have been better.