Darren Lynn Bousman | 89 mins | TV (HD) | 18 / R
The games-playing slaughterfest returns in what I’m told is many fans’ favourite entry in the series. Maybe they’ve never seen Cube…
Saw II is a horror sequel, which means it can’t help but take the same basic premise as its originator: serial killer Jigsaw locks a number of people in a room with a series of games/traps, which they can escape only if they can work out the clues to defeat them; and if not, they’ll be brutally murdered and/or disfigured. Where Saw II comes into its own is that it dares to do something a bit different with this premise, usually the hallmark of a worthwhile sequel.
Instead of two victims locked in a dingy bathroom we have too many to reasonably count locked in a whole house. Instead of the killer being largely unseen he’s a constant presence, in conversation with a police detective while events in the house unfold on monitors nearby. The film’s raison d’être is the same — people get injured/killed in nastily inventive ways — but someone (co-writer/director Bousman, in fact) actually bothered to come up with a story that’s more than superficially different.
Despite the terror and gore — and there’s a healthy (a word I use very, very loosely) dose of each — Saw II is arguably even more like a thriller than its predecessor. The police are more heavily involved this time, actually catching up with Jigsaw, and as much time is devoted to Detective Matthews’ negotiation/chat as it is to the predicament of the victims. Here we get a chance to see what a great villain Tobin Bell makes — subtly so, not the typically OTT psychopath killer designed to show off an actor’s ‘skill’. He’s not quite Spacey’s John Doe, but his quiet, determined, reasoned killer is a cut above the average. That he’s afforded a moderately reasonable motive and some character development is certainly more in line with thrillers than horror movies.
Meanwhile, in the house, Bousman seems to be going for a Cube-like atmosphere: a disparate group of people wake up together and must find a way out of a strange, booby-trapped location. This starts out well enough, unravelling both questions and answers at a pleasing speed, but unfortunately is unable to sustain it convincingly. Few of the victims achieve the level of distinct characterisation that Cube managed, suggesting there are more people locked in the house than the writers could comfortably handle or the story could really support.
Indeed, even the primary selling point is abandoned surprisingly quickly — it seems the writers don’t have enough ways to kill people. At least one just drops dead from the virus-that’s-there-from-the-start, which feels unsatisfactory, while another happens to wander into a trap when it’s time to dispatch someone else. Considering the amount of planning we know Jigsaw gives to his games, we should at least see that there are enough ways to kill everyone, even if some are then subverted through escape or avoidance.
There’s some redemption to be found at the climax, which produces a final round of twists that are almost equal to the first film’s triumphant reveal. Again I won’t give it away, but I’m sure some have called the biggest twist a cheat, on a par with “and they woke up and it was all a dream”. If they have, they’re wrong: it’s entirely in keeping with both the games Jigsaw might play and the flashback-driven style of the first film, not to mention that — as the insistent concluding recap shows — there are clues seeded all the way along. If it’s not as audaciously memorable as the twist in Saw, that’s through no fault of it’s own.
Saw II doesn’t just rehash the original, which is something to be thankful for in a horror sequel. There’s something close to character development, a nice opening setup, and an enjoyably twist-stacked ending. Unfortunately it can’t quite connect that opening to that ending, in spite of its brief running time, which means it fails to equal its predecessor’s overall quality. Fair effort though.