Time: 93 Minutes
Age Rating: sadistic violence
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.