Tag Archives: Darren Lynn Bousman

Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021) Review

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Spiral From the Book of Saw

Time: 93 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Torture & sadistic violence
Cast:
Chris Rock as Det. Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks
Max Minghella as Det. William “Will” Schenk 
Marisol Nichols as Capt. Angie Garza
Samuel L. Jackson as Marcus Banks
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Working in the shadow of his father (Samuel L. Jackson), Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock) and his rookie partner (Max Minghella) take charge of an investigation into grisly murders that are eerily reminiscent of the city’s gruesome past. Unwittingly entrapped in a deepening mystery, Zeke finds himself at the center of the killer’s morbid game.

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Spiral: From the Book of Saw was one of my most anticipated movies of 2021. Having only seen the first three Saw movies last year when it was originally set to release, I was only mildly interested in it. However, I got even more excited for it when I watched the rest of the movies in the series. For all of their faults (and there’s a lot), the movies were quite enjoyable, even considering the lower moments of the series. With this new entry being based off an idea from Chris Rock and having a different approach, it looked like what the franchise needed. Despite some flaws, Spiral is quite a good horror movie and a well needed revival of the franchise.

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First of all, getting the obvious out of the way. Spiral may be a Saw movie, but you don’t have to have watched the Saw movies (even the first movie) to enjoy this one. I do think that it is worth knowing what Saw is about at the very least, regarding Jigsaw’s games, the traps, etc. It takes place in the same world, and there are references to John Kramer and his impact is present in much of this movie, but that’s as far as it goes. If you’re a Saw fan, don’t expect to see any past Saw characters or anything, you’ll just be disappointed. Spiral does have some differences from many of the Saw movies. First of all, the plot goes back to basics and doesn’t get convoluted like the sequels did. There’s a serial killer targeting corrupt cops, and much of the movie is Chris Rock as a detective investigating with his partner. It is the first Saw movie to not have an ongoing game running throughout the movie, even the first Saw which had a good amount of the movie being flashbacks while the main story focusing on the game in the bathroom. In some ways it takes more from Se7en than Saw (ironically the latter took a lot of inspiration from the former). There is definitely more humour in the mix especially in the first act, particularly within the dialogue. It actually does work quite well all things considered, and it does give it a distinct tone from the other movies. Another way that this movie is different in the series was the social commentary and themes. Saw VI made itself stand out with its take on health insurance, and no other Saw film had been that clear about being about something until Spiral, which this time takes on corrupt cops. It was refreshing to see, and I really liked the angle. However, don’t expect a deep dive or analysis about the subject matter, if anything I wish they went deeper into that and spent more time with it.

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Something Spiral does have in common with the first Saw was the use of traps, with traps being the most (in)famous aspect of the movies. Now there isn’t a huge number of traps in Spiral, instead focusing more on the actual investigation. With that said, the traps are definitely prominent in this movie. Unlike some of the sequels, the traps in Spiral are purposeful, and they actually have a meaning behind them. Overall, I was invested with the story and interested to see where things would go, even if I do feel like it could’ve been a little more. However, there are some story and writing faults. The dialogue can either be a bit sloppy, or very expositional and forced. It does fall on some familiar tropes, both for Saw and cop/crime thrillers, it even has the classic trope of the older cop who gets a younger partner. As said earlier, this could’ve done a little more with its take on corrupt cops, the runtime is 90 minutes, so it could’ve spent more time with that. Some parts of the plot are predictable, and you can figure some twists out, especially if you are familiar with previous Saw movies and twists. All I’ll say is that with regards to the killer, I was more interested in the why than the who, and I kind of wish more time was spent with that. As for how it serves as a soft reboot, I’m interested in where the series could go from here, especially with where the film ends on.

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The acting is pretty good generally. Chris Rock leads this movie as lead character Zeke Banks, and he’s yet another case of an comedic actor taking on more dramatic work. Despite some moments of overacting, he actually does a pretty good job and is believable enough. Yes he acts like how you’d expect Chris Rock to act as a cop, but he does make for one of the more energetic and standout Saw protagonists thus far. Max Minghella plays Zeke’s partner, and the two actors are great and have a strong dynamic on screen. Samuel L. Jackson is also in this movie as Zeke’s father, who was once a police chief. He’s not in the movie as much as you’d think he would, but he does play a vital role, and he acts his part well.

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This film is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who previous directed Saw II, III and IV. It is interesting that one of the main people who shaped what the Saw series would become would be the one to return to helm the entry which would revive the series with a distinctly different take. His work in this movie is quite good, it’s probably the most polished Saw movie on a technical level. The look of the movie is great. The original 7 Saw movies had this grungy 2000s look to it. Jigsaw in 2017 did give it a new and modern look, however it almost looked a bit too separated from the previous movies. Spiral has a happy medium of the two, looking modern and also looking grimy and gritty. The use of colour is also pretty great and makes it stand out from the rest of the series in a good way. The editing is also balanced well. It is fast paced especially during the trap scenes, as per usual for the Saw movies. However it doesn’t get obnoxious. I would be lying if I said that the traps in this movie would rank among the best or most memorable of the entire series. However they are good, creative, and fit the tone and overall story incredibly well. They are definitely on the more realistic side (more Saw 1 than Jigsaw or Saw 3D) and are more grounded. It’s also no slouch when it comes to the gore, with some truly gruesome moments, and the use of practical effects is great. Charlie Clouser, who composes the scores of every Saw film, returns to compose the score of Spiral. The score is good, and sets itself apart from the other movies, and yes, some familiar sounding themes from the series do make a comeback.

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Spiral: From the Book of Saw is really good. It has a fresh take on the series, it’s solid on a directing and acting level, and I was interested throughout. It’s not the best movie in the series, there’s at least a few Saw movies I would consider to be better (including the original film). However it is one of the better movies in the series for sure. As for whether you’ll like it or not, long story short, if you watched some of the Saw movies and you didn’t like them any of it, this won’t change your mind. If you are a Saw fan, I don’t know for sure how you’ll feel about it (definitely depends on what you’re expecting/hoping for), but it is definitely worth watching. If you haven’t seen the Saw movies but are familiar with the concept and want to watch Spiral right now, you can jump right into it without a problem. As a fan of the Saw series, I’m pleased with the movie and I’m looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here.

Saw IV (2007) Review

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Saw 4

Time: 92 minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Contains Sadistic Violence
Cast:
Tobin Bell as John Kramer
Costas Mandylor as Detective Mark Hoffman
Scott Patterson as Agent Peter Strahm
Betsy Russell as Jill Tuck
Lyriq Bent as Officer Daniel Rigg
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

While FBI agents Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Perez (Athena Karkanis) are still engulfed in the grisly Jigsaw case, SWAT Commander Rigg (Lyriq Bent) is roped in as the last pawn for yet another lethal game of the manic Jigsaw (Tobin Bell).

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While I was somewhat curious about the Saw sequels, I also had the feeling that they wouldn’t be all that good. The first two movies in the series were good, but Saw III was a step down for me. So going into Saw IV, I didn’t have high expectations and I guess that at least helped me prepare for it. The easiest description I can give for IV is that it’s just another Saw movie. Some of the entertaining elements are back, but its familiar faults are also back, and additionally it doesn’t really do much differently.

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Saw IV falls back on familiar tropes in the series, with flashbacks, traps, random new characters, twists, tape recordings, fast cuts, and a needlessly intricate plot. The movie starts off pretty well. Spoiler warning for Saw III if you haven’t seen it already, but it opens with the autopsy of John Kramer AKA Jigsaw to confirm that he is in fact dead and didn’t survive through some twist. There’s a lot happening in this movie, there’s like four plots happening all at once. Unfortunately it doesn’t really spend enough time with any of them so they feel all generally feel underdeveloped. Additionally. Saw IV tries to serve as a sort of prequel to some of the previous Saw movies, while setting up sequels for a post John Kramer Jigsaw world. While I wouldn’t say that I was bored during the movie, most of the plot is uninteresting and leaps from scene to scene quickly. On one hand, it being fast paced means that doesn’t really drag, but it also makes it messy, especially as a lot of the time there is an overload of information thrown at the audience. The narrative on the whole is very messy. The story was unnecessarily intertwined and it is very convoluted, which is to be expected from the Saw movies at this point. However it is getting to the point where it’s becoming confusing.

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The main plotline in Saw IV is about a police officer moving from trap to trap as he tries to save some people, similar to Saw III except the character isn’t locked in a basement and is free to give up at any time. This feels like familiar territory, and it is, and it doesn’t do really anything new with it. Pair that with an unengaging main character, and that plotline isn’t that good. Another plotline is a procedural crime drama with two FBI agents investigating the killings from Jigsaw. This was fine but not particularly tense or interesting either. As said earlier, John Kramer is now dead, so we have him appear in multiple flashbacks in this movie. These various extensive flashbacks detail more of Jigsaw’s backstory, largely through a character named Jill who’s being interrogated by the FBI. Now the Saw series is no stranger to flashbacks, but Saw IV takes it to another level and becomes very reliant on them, to the point where there is no balance between the past and the present events. To be fair I actually did like these scenes, and there’s so many of them that you almost wish the movie was just a full on prequel for Jigsaw. On top of that, the rest of the movie is Saw is on autopilot, so it was really the only interesting part. The characters on the whole were dull and not that interesting, and this movie introduces so many new random characters. With Saw III they also really started connecting all the movies’ plots tightly together. While some of the connections were interesting, this Saw timeline is so confused and bizarre at this point that you’re quite lost by the end. Twists are a staple in the Saw movies, but the twists aren’t that convincing this time around and don’t really work. At the end there’s one of those signature Saw plot twists and reveals but it doesn’t feel satisfying or deserved, not to mention it wasn’t exactly unpredictable. It just sort of sets up Saw V. The runtime is 90 minutes long, which I guess is at least better than making it 2 hours long like Saw III was. However as a result it means that in this time they have to cover over 3 plotlines, and as you can probably tell the outcome isn’t so great.

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As usual Tobin Bell’s performance as John Kramer/Jigsaw does keep things together somewhat. As usual he’s a captivating screen presence and manages to sell even the most ludicrous of writing, and steals every scene he’s in. Unfortunately, much of the other characters and acting aren’t so good. The main character Rigg is played by Liriq Bent, he was a supporting cop character from Saw II. He’s a rather boring character, given little to do here except go from trap to trap. While he was a little more likable than Jeff from Saw III, at least he had a character or personality, I barely remember who Rigg was by the end of IV. On another note, you can see why some of the main characters in the other Saw movies are being tested, not really for this character. The reason why he seems to be tested is that Rigg busts down doors and tries to rescue people and they end up dying anyway (or something along those lines). It just seems like a rather contrived reason to have someone who was in one of the past Saw movies be the protagonist. Not to mention that Jigsaw’s ‘philosophy’ and ‘moral code’ already seemed shaky at the best of times and this case doesn’t help matters much. The movie also introduces some new characters with potential, including Scott Patterson as an FBI agent and Betsy Russell as someone who knew John Kramer personally, unfortunately they are very underdeveloped and not much happens with them, so again Jigsaw remains the only good character in this movie.

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Saw II and Saw III director Darren Lynn Bousman returns to make this movie, and while I liked his work on those past movies, I’m not sure he was the best choice to helm a movie that’s trying to transition away from the John Kramer Jigsaw movies. There’s an effort made to keep the feel and look of the previous movies, and a lot of what you’d expect to be here makes a return. The cinematography oddly looks a little smoother and cleaner than Saw III, though as a result it makes the movie look a bit flat. Saw IV has many trap set pieces, no surprises there. However they are devoid of tension or horror compared to what came before in the past movies. I guess part of it is that instead of the traps mainly being there to teach someone a lesson, they are there to serve up another gory demise to someone who has no chance of surviving. In a lot of those cases, these people clearly won’t escape, and for the most part you won’t care if they do or not. That’s not even to mention that even the traps themselves are rather lacklasture and devoid of imagination. By Saw III it got to the point where the movies were starting to have gore for the sake of gore, but at least there was some level of impact that came from watching them. Saw IV’s traps aren’t as disgusting and horrible to watch, even if there’s still quite a bit of gore. I don’t think it’s just me being desensitised because I remember finding some of Saw III’s traps hard to watch. As for the whole ‘is Saw torture porn’ question, IV is closer to being that than the third movie, because much of the movie feels like a conveyor belt taking you from one trap to the next and just throwing obligatory gore on screen without having any sort of impact on you. Disappointing traps aside, the practical effects on the gore are still great. The highlight for me was the opening scene when an autopsy is performed on John Kramer and while I’m not expert on it, it really did look like an autopsy. As usual there’s some fast paced editing, and most of it can be quite annoying and bad, mostly very fast during tense scenes, especially during traps. With that said, there’s one moment when an interrogation scene is happening and it’s getting more tense, the editing just acts crazy for some reason. Additionally, the use of slow motion especially for big reveals were a bit silly. An odd editing choice this time around are the transitions between some scenes, either involving time periods or locations. A character might walk into a room or camera might pan a certain way, and then it smoothly cuts to a different scene. While practical and well done, these are very jarring. Charlie Clouser’s score is one of the only consistently good things across all these movies alongside from Tobin Bell, it still adds a lot and is satisfying especially during the tense moments and the ending.

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Saw IV is yet another mixed bag of a Saw movie that gets worse the more I actually think about it. I liked Tobin Bell, the score, and the plotline with John Kramer’s past, but everything else felt flat. I actually do consider it to be worse than Saw III because it recycles stuff that has been done before, and more often than not was done better back then. If you liked Saw III and you’re up for more movies, then it might be worth checking out IV at least. Overall though, it just felt like more Saw for people who like Saw. While I didn’t dislike the movie, I hope it’s not just a series where each sequel is just a worse version of the last movie.

Saw III (2006) Review

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Saw 3

Time: 108 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1]
Cast:
Tobin Bell as John Kramer
Shawnee Smith as Amanda Young
Angus Macfadyen as Jeff Denlon
Bahar Soomekh as Lynn Denlon
Dina Meyer as Detective Allison Kerry
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) abducts a doctor (Bahar Soomekh) in order to keep himself alive while he watches his new apprentice (Shawnee Smith) put an unlucky citizen named Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) through a brutal test.

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Saw III is the last of the Saw movies I’m rewatching before I watch the rest of the series for the first time. From my last viewing, I remember this being just okay, though definitely steps below the previous two movies. However, that was a couple of years ago, so I thought I’d give it another go. My thoughts remain pretty much the same, it’s just okay at best.

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The writing is a very mixed bag. The first half does feel dragged quite a bit, but the movie does pick up as it goes along. Saw III doesn’t quite have the originality of the first two movies, and essentially is the same old story as before. It has two ongoing storylines, one is following a character named Jeff, who is put through a series of Jigsaw’s tests. The other is Jigsaw having his apprentice Amanda kidnap a doctor, and getting her to keep him alive for one more test. The Jeff storyline involves him wanting revenge on the people responsible for something that killed his son, and then finding those people caught in traps to test him. It certainly had potential and was more than just Jeff trying to survive traps. However, the execution of that storyline had much to be desired. I guess a large part is that the character of Jeff was quite annoying and hard to like, but everything else in that storyline still felt rather familiar. The doctor storyline with Jigsaw and Amanda was a little more interesting, I liked the dynamic between those three characters. Granted the other storyline not being that good certainly helped, but it really says something that the storyline that doesn’t involve traps is way better than the storyline that does (and in a Saw movie of all things). It’s also not trying really hard to shock you with the gore, and the one scene that is a bit gory is genuinely effective and one of the best scenes of the film.

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The theme of this movie is letting go and knowing what a life costs to you, and it really beats you over the head with that throughout. The thing is that this time, you aren’t really tense about the main characters actually potentially dying. It also doesn’t help that you don’t really like a lot of the characters, at the very least Jeff. As a result, it’s hard to be emotionally connected to the story, which is unfortunate considering that it is actually trying to actually add an emotional dimension to it. There are conversations of morality and it can feel a little self important and soap opera-esque at times, but I even enjoyed that. Saw III is a lot more crazy than the previous two movies, and it’s also a lot more far fetched and ridiculous with its plot. The plot is also more disjointed and unfocused, and the inconsistencies become more frequent and noticeable as the film progresses. The Saw series has been widely labelled torture porn, and I firmly say that the first two movies aren’t that. While I wouldn’t quite call Saw III torture porn, it is definitely leaning towards it with this instalment. This movie attempts to be more grisly and darker, however it still ends up being sillier. Saw III links its story to the first movie and the second movie, and while I liked seeing the connections, the timeline is a mess. I’m guessing that with the remaining movies in the series, they are only going to continue linking the entries together and make an even more confused timeline. There is a twist ending (unsurprising, it’s a Saw movie), I do like it, and there was more to it than I was expected. However I will note that it is such a downer ending, that it somehow ends up being cartoonish. The movie is an hour and 50 minutes long and that actually seemed a bit too long for the movie, especially with some of the dragging pace.

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Tobin Bell is great as Jigsaw as usual, even if for this movie he’s stuck on a bed for the entirety of it. Shawnee Smith also returns as Amanda, the former victim of Jigsaw turned apprentice. The mentor-mentee dynamic between the two characters keeps this movie interesting for the most part, even if Amanda seemed a little different compared to at the end of the last movie. The two main characters are Jeff and Lynn (the doctor). Jeff played by Angus Macfadyen is the protagonist and as stated earlier, he was rather annoying and hard to like, even with the basis of his character being him having a son who was killed and him wanting revenge. The performance is also a bit of a mixed bag. He’s my least favourite major character in the Saw movies so far. Lynn played by Bahar Soomekh wasn’t a particularly interesting character but she was alright, and was at least better than Jeff. The majority of the rest of the cast outside were rather bad.

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Saw III is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed Saw II, and it’s generally directed the same way and is more of the same, albeit with some differences. For one, it definitely has an even larger budget compared to the past 2 movies, going from $1.2 million and $4 million to $10 million. Another difference is the level of gore. Saw II upped the gore over the first movie, however Saw III takes things to a whole new level with its reliance on it for shock effect. From the first scene of the movie, it’s pretty clear that it’s going for heightened brutality. Despite how over the top they are, the practical effects for the gore are actually very well done. There’s a lot of traps as to be expected, but they are even more elaborate and ridiculous than before. By this point you are probably wondering how they even come up with traps like these. They’re creative if nothing else. I do like the look of the movie, as well as the sets. The editing style carries over from the previous Saw movies, and it’s still bad. The thing is that you can probably tell that the first Saw was edited like that because of restrictions, including strict filming times, and the lower budget. The second Saw copied it unnecessarily, and now because of that, it’s seemingly become a staple of the Saw series since it re-appears in this movie. If you don’t know what I mean, during some more intense moments it gets really fast paced and flashy. There are fast montage cuts when a person is stuck in a trap, and there are dramatic cuts and white flashes when it goes into one of its many flashback sequences or reveals. It’s usually done in an attempt to make the scenes more tense but more often than not it’s kind of annoying. With that said, there are some moments which work, such as one scene involving brain surgery. One reoccurring Saw aspect is Charlie Clouser’s score, which is iconic and well fitting as usual.

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Saw III is worse than the previous two movies in the series, but I wouldn’t call it bad. There are some aspects of the story I liked, Tobin Bell as usual shines as Jigsaw, and some of the over the top moments including the gore and soap opera story are enjoyable. At the same time, the story is a mixed bag, and doesn’t feel particularly fresh compared to the other movies. I am aware that generally speaking, most people agree that the first Saw is regarded as the best of the series, the second and third are the next best, and the others are worse than those. Given how Saw III is, I don’t have a lot of faith in the remainder of the sequels.

Saw II (2005) Review

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Saw 2

Time: 93 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] sadistic violence
Cast:
Tobin Bell as John Kramer
Shawnee Smith as Amanda Young
Donnie Wahlberg as Detective Eric Matthews
Erik Knudsen as Daniel Matthews
Franky G as Xavier
Glenn Plummer as Jonas
Emmanuelle Vaugier as Addison
Beverley Mitchell as Laura
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Officer Eric (Donnie Wahlberg) realizes that Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is back to playing his evil tricks of locking down people and gruesomely torturing them. Eric has to find a way to set his son and others free from Jigsaw’s dungeon.

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James Wan’s horror film Saw was quite the unexpected hit when it was released back in 2004. After the immensely successful opening weekend, a sequel was immediately green-lit, one without original Saw director Wan or writer Leigh Whannell. Saw II was certainly a larger movie, with a bigger budget, and with a lot more gore. While not as good or effective as the first movie, I still thought it was pretty good all things considering.

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Saw II is quite different from the first movie, it’s clear that the first movie wasn’t meant to have a sequel at all. Instead of exactly repeating the same scenario as in the first movie, in the sequel there are two storylines occurring at the same time, one is with characters who are trapped by Jigsaw, and the other is with the police with Jigsaw as they try to figure out where it is happening. Despite the series being heavily critical in the torture porn genre, like with the original movie, I wouldn’t quite file Saw II under that genre. It is still a mystery thriller, both with the police storyline and the trapped people as they are trying to find their way out. With that said, there are definitely a lot more traps. It is a bigger plot for sure, with the trapped people being stuck in a house instead of one room. I thought the plot is interesting, albeit a bit far fetched at times. The central tension with the main cop  played by Donnie Wahlberg, and Jigsaw, and the way it plays out is fantastic. The story is also focussed on being more fast paced, which sometimes works to its benefit, sometimes it doesn’t. There’s also a lot more Jigsaw. In this, Jigsaw seems to have an established philosophy for choosing life or dying, and we even get his backstory. There’s some problems with the writing itself. The trap segment has some flat characters and it’s hard to get invested in any of them. Some of the lines are pretty dumb and silly, and also some of the decisions made by characters are really dumb, one involving a glass box comes to mind. Nonetheless I was on board with the movie throughout. The ending definitely helps the movie quite a bit, it ends on a good note. The ending for the first Saw is pretty good but ultimately boiled down to “The dead guy in the room isn’t really dead and was the guy behind everything”. The ending to Saw II is genuinely clever and it worked quite well.

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Much of the cast are a mixed bag. The two lead characters in the first Saw movie are definitely flawed, but you liked them enough to somewhat hope that they wouldn’t die. Most of the characters here you don’t really like. It may be a weird thing but I can’t tell whether Donnie Wahlberg in the lead role of the central cop is a good performance or not. The characters stuck in the trap were rather annoying, most of the acting is average and you don’t really care about them. Of that group, Shawnee Smith does pretty well as Amanda, who’s one of the only characters from this movie who returned from the first Saw. The stand out performer in all of this movie is Tobin Bell as John Kramer, AKA Jigsaw. Bell was shown mainly in the ending of the first Saw, as he was revealed to be Jigsaw. In Saw II he gets to be seen throughout and has a larger presence and role. He’s an old man in a seat for most of the movie yet is incredibly menacing. He’s incredible particularly in his scenes with Donnie Wahlberg. The movie definitely wouldn’t work as well if he wasn’t in it.

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Instead of being directed by James Wan, it’s Darren Lynn Bousman who is directing. It certainly does try to adopt the visual design of the original movie. There’s a larger budget given at around $4 million, it is also a lot larger scale. As I said earlier, the first movie was set in a dirty bathroom with two people handcuffed, and in Saw II, the people trapped are stuck in a house. It doesn’t quite have the claustrophobia and griminess from the first movie, but works for what it is. The traps are quite creative, even some of the simplistic traps are effective, one involving syringes comes to mind. There’s a lot more gore here compared to the first Saw, it’s gruesome for sure. The original movie did not need gore to work, and it goes even more for high shock value, but I’m alright with it. Some of the editing can get annoying. While some of the editing in the first movie can be excused especially considering how the filmmakers needed to cut corners, I don’t know why it’s like this in this movie. The score from Charlie Clouser is once again effective and adds a lot to the movie.

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Saw II is a solid, albeit flawed follow up to the first movie. There are some issues with the writing and editing, and the story isn’t as captivating, and the movie not as memorable. However the increase in gore, some good traps and tension, and a lot of Tobin Bell as Jigsaw kept me interested. If you liked the first Saw movie, I’d saw the follow up is worth a watch. As of this time I’m willing to bet that of the main series, it’s the best sequel.