In a stroke of titling genius “Saw II” is the sequel to last year’s “Saw.” Once again, producers resisted breaking the bank on big name actors, casting Shawnee Smith, Franky G and Donnie Wahlberg. Written and directed by the sophomore creative team from the first, think of Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannel as the poor man’s Wachowski Brothers. The film exhibits the same mysterious surprise in its formula that made the first a success.
The film opens with the sick situations you all know and love from the first. A paparazzi photographer has been outfitted with a device that will close a mask of nails on both sides of his head. He can free himself if he is able to retrieve the key to the device, which has been surgically placed behind his eye. As the trap is sprung and the timer begins to click down, the film suddenly shifts into scary mode. A series of high-paced cuts and split-second close-ups flash across the screen in a dizzying sequence that would send any audience member south of 11 years old into a Pokemon-esque seizure. As intense as it is, this type of editing style is constant throughout the film and after the first 15 minutes, the fear you feel might actually be from the fact that the old guy next to you might keel over and die from all the excitement.
Enter the chain-smoking, “I play by my own rules” and corrupt detective Eric Mathews (Wahlberg). A note at the scene from the Jigsaw Killer requests that he specifically investigates the case. Early in the film, Mathews is able to apprehend the Jigsaw Killer, however, Jigsaw has captured Mathews’ son Daniel. Jigsaw will release Daniel if Mathews plays by his rules. Wahlberg is the older version of the bad boy he was back in his New Kids On The Block days, and his acting is just as good as his singing. Despite the acting, the strength of the interesting script will keep you interested. The Jigsaw Killer explains the rationality to his murders and how he came to be the psychopath he is, something that even the sophisticated Hannibal Lector never revealed. The intelligence behind the killer is the best part of the film. The plotline splits between the Jigsaw/Mathews conversation and Daniel and the other hostages’ dire situation unfolding in a house full of traps somewhere across the city. The band of victims wake up in a room only to find out that they must each pass their own test if they want to survive; fail and in two hours a poisonous gas will kill them all. One of the hostages, Amanda (Smith), is the sole survivor back from the first film, and the only voice of logic in the whole bunch. After a few failed attempts at the traps, Xavier (Franky G) goes on a frustrated murderous rampage. This provides the film with the intense gore and insane editing that is either laughable or horrifying, depending on your own dementia. After a few more deaths and complicated psychoanalysis of Jigsaw, Mathews finally discovers the location of the house. As he rushes to rescue his son, the big surprise ending finally reveals itself. You may catch yourself feeling cheated and saying, “That was dumb when the end comes.” The same thing happened in the first film and you should have expected it.
If you have not seen the first film and are thinking about going to see “Saw II,” renting the first will definitely come in handy. The bottom line of “Saw II” is a matter of personal preference. It is a faithful sequel, and you are sure to get a few screams and chills from the flick. You won’t be missing out on any big piece of pop culture by not seeing it. The only horror film within the last couple months, “Saw II” is not a must-see but definitely a cut above the rest, pun intended.