Saw II

Cast:
Tobin Bell as John (The Jigsaw Killer)
Donnie Wahlberg as Detective Eric Mason
Shawnee Smith as Amanda
Dina Meyer as Kerry
Emmanuelle Vaugier as Addison
Franky G as Xavier
Lyriq Bent as Rigg
Tim Burd as Obi
Erik Knudsen as Daniel
Beverley Mitchell as Laura
Tony Nappo as Gus
John Fallon as Video Techie
Glenn Plummer as Jonas

Summary:
It’s not so much that “Saw II” is better than the first movie, just that it’s not nearly as bad thanks to a bigger budget, better writing and some truly gruesome gore. Bring on “Saw III”!

Story:
The killer known as Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is still on the loose, and this time he has his sights set on Detective Eric Williams (Donnie Wahlberg), a corrupt cop having family problems. Just as Jigsaw is about to be captured by his squad, he reveals a bank of monitors showing a room where the detective’s son and seven others are trapped with nerve gas that will kill them in two hours if they don’t escape.

Disclaimer:
I really didn’t like “Saw.” Sure, the premise of a serial killer who only preys on criminals was okay, even if it stole pretty liberally from “Se7en,” but the bad acting and the poor production values in the low budget horror film made it almost unwatchable at times.

What Worked:
The above disclaimer aside, “Saw II” is definitely a step in the right direction. Maybe it’s just that the premise of Jigsaw and his traps have already been set-up and in this sequel, we can finally find out more about the background of this mystery man.

The premise is pretty simple: eight people in a house, including the son of a police detective, must escape within two hours or succumb to deadly nerve toxins. The police look on helplessly from another location not knowing how to find them. While most people would work together to find a solution, this group is made of up ex-convicts and similarly troubled people who are fairly dysfunctional from the get-go. Yeah, the idea sounds a lot like grittier version of “Cube” or even “Identity” so the notion of originality doesn’t enter the equation, but it is fun to watch a larger group deal with Jigsaw’s puzzles and traps and some of them meeting a gory end in the process.

The first “Saw” was done on a shoe-string budget, probably in a short amount of time, but you can tell that more time and money was put into the sequel, despite being produced in less than a year. The writing isn’t Dickens, but it’s definitely better than in the first movie, with Leigh Whannell being teamed with the sequel’s director Darren Lynn Bousman, and the results are far more professional even for a horror movie.

The acting won’t be getting any Oscars, but the performances are definitely stronger, and Donnie Wahlberg puts a lot more into the part of Detective Eric Williams than Danny Glover did in the first movie. The best parts of the movie involve Williams and Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw having conversations and playing mind games, which are as strong as the scenes between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling in “The Silence of the Lambs.” This is the key to “Saw II” being so enjoyable, because we barely saw Bell in the movie, just heard his voice, and he really is a solid actor who raises the character to a level with Lecter or Freddie, the sure signs that this could be a solid ongoing franchise.

Of the people trapped in the house, Shawnee Smith, she of the famous jawtrap from the first movie, gives the strongest performance, followed by Emmanuelle Vaugier as the tough Addison.

The blood and gore is great! I mean, if you love watching people getting slaughtered in interesting and clever ways–and who doesn’t?–than “Saw II” will definitely appease your bloodlust. And unlike most of these kinds of movies, the people caught up in Jigsaw’s game aren’t necessarily stupid or innocent, so there aren’t as many of the normal horror clichés we’re used to seeing.

Some of the scenes will really make you uncomfortable. I mean you literally will want to turn away when you see some of the sick things that Jigsaw and the inhabitants of his horror house get up to. There’s at least one scene involving Franky G and Shawnee Smith that will shake up even the staunchest horror fans, a disturbing scene on many levels.

There’s a lot more action and tension than the first movie, maybe because it’s not just two guys chained on opposite sides of the room for most of the movie. It’s also easier to follow since we’re just going between two settings, the house of horrors and Jigsaw’s workshop where he’s holding the police hostage while they try to find the location of the house.

Without giving it away, there are a few fun nods to horror movies of the past that anyone with a good knowledge of horror clichés will appreciate. There’s also a very cool pay-off for those who enjoyed the first movie that I’m also not going to reveal.

What Didn’t Work:
The acting still leaves a lot to be desired with many of the performances being way over-the-top, particularly Frankie G as a con who decides that he’s getting out of that house without help from the others, often jeopardizing their lives. He just goes so overboard on the aggression and raving that it’s hard to take his character too seriously. Beverley Mitchell from “7th Heaven” also doesn’t offer very much, spending most of the movie coughing up blood. In general, the inhabitants of the house are not that interesting or original as characters, and it’s more how they interact or are connected that makes them worthwhile.

Viewers will probably guess some of the plots twists pretty early, maybe because we’ll be expecting them after the first movie. They make about as much sense as the identity of Jigsaw did in the first movie, which is none.

The movie once again uses a terrific Charlie Clouser soundtrack, but for some reason, it’s not as effective as it was in the first movie, maybe because there’s more techno-metal and less of the ambient stuff that made the first film so creepy.

The Bottom Line:
Not everyone is going to like “Saw II”, and definitely not those with a weak stomach for blood and gore. It’s certainly been upped a notch with some truly gruesome ideas and visuals, but it’s also a stronger movie thanks to the extra money and time put into making it.

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