Saturday, March 19, 2011

SAW II (2005) - REVIEW

In 2005, the first of the "Saw" sequels came out in time for Halloween. This would become a yearly habit. The last week of October became a traditional time frame for the release of new "Saw" entries. Part II also represented the feature film debut of Darren Lynn Bousman, who would go on to direct the next two sequels as well as a similarly twisted horror rock musical, "Repo! The Genetic Opera". This was a defining moment for both Bousman's carreer and the franchise's future.

For the first time in the franchise, the game is much bigger and revolves around a group of eight people trapped in a deserted house filled with poisonous gas, that Jigsaw himself reveals to be the same type that was used in the Tokyo subway attack. For those rushing to Google for assistance, he's reffering to sarin gas. They have two hours to find the syringes containing the antidote scattered around the house and survive the traps that guard them. The police catch a major break when Detectives Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) and Allison Kerry (Dina Meyer) find a revealing clue that leads them to Jigsaw's hideout. Here they find John Kramer (Tobin Bell), aka Jigsaw, waiting for them. In seemingly bad shape, dying from cancer, Kramer reveals the game in the abandoned house, and detective Matthew's stake in the game : his son is one of the trapped eight. Let the game begin !

"This can't be good !"
In terms of pacing, this is easily the most streamlined of the seven movies. Not too long, always in motion, coherent and interesting, constantly alternating between the efforts of the people trapped in the house and detective Matthew's interrogation of Kramer, all leading up to the franchise trademark montage and final twist. The gimmick revealed in the end, which the entire plot hinges on, is smart and makes sense when viewed in retrospect. It's also the first time John Kramer lays out the foundations of his live or die philosophy. In a few scenes of dialogue, he is given the opportunity to further flesh out the character, truly becoming the iconic villain fans know and love. His scenes with det. Matthews greatly add to the movie, providing an unexpected layer of character developement. The acting is somewhat better too. Donnie Wahlberg has a rough impulsive quality that works for his character and Tobin Bell is the perfect smooth criminal, fascinating and dangerously seductive as he preaches his horrifying revelations. The eight fighting to survive in the house of death are a bit lacking in the acting department but among them, Shawnee Smith returning as Amanda, a survivor of Jigsaw's games from the first movie, does a decent job.

Detective Matthews faces the ultimate test.
The movie also looks a lot better. Clearly the bigger budget allowed the production team to really work their magic. You can still spot some small budget trickery here and there, but it's a step forward, nonetheless. The violence also increases in intensity as the traps grow both in complexity and sadism. It also becomes obvious that Jigsaw really goes through a lot of trouble to set up these games and has some fancy mechanics and engineering know-how. And this is only the beginning.

The script originally written by Bousman was not meant to be a "Saw" movie, but the studio acquired it and called in "Saw" writer, Leigh Whannell, to adapt the plot. That helps the story, because while traces of a different flavor can be found at every step, it's a cleverly thought-out story that fits nicely into the franchise frame. It's also pretty much the last time any real innovation was added to the movie's structure.

Overall, "Saw II" is a good sequel, taking to heart the lessons taught by James Wan and Leigh Whannel, while adding new insight into the story. I was actually tempted to rate it higher than the original "Saw", because I find it easier to watch and more rewarding. But, the original one came up with the whole idea and still has the better twist ending. So, as a compromise, "Saw II" will receive the same rating as the first one. It's really no small feat. Too bad they couldn't stick with it, as the series soon fell victim to the law of diminishing returns.

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