Saw II Review
By Shawn McKenzie 10/28/2005
Quickie horror sequels are almost never very good. The most recent travesties were the 1999 original independent blockbuster The Blair Witch Project, followed by the awful 2000 follow-up Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, and the creepy 2002 movie The Ring, followed by the horrible The Ring Two from this year. With Saw II coming out almost exactly one year after the 2004 original (the first one was released on October 29), I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence that this would be any good. The shocker is that is that it is very good.
When the movie opens, a police informant named Michael (Noam Jenkins) has woken up in that creepy house from the first movie. He has a mini Iron Maiden mask around his neck and it is connected to a timer by a wire. A video recording of the Jigsaw Killer puppet appears on a TV in this room. The video says that he wants to play a game. There is a scalpel and a mirror in the room. Jigsaw says that Michael must use the scalpel to cut a key off his right eye that has been surgically attached to it. If he doesn’t do it in sixty seconds, the Iron Maiden will snap shut and will make his head all holy and, you know…dead. Michael tries to do it, but he panics, and he dies. Serial killer expert Kerry (Dina Meyer), a woman who has been investigating the sick games played by Jigsaw, contacts a police detective named Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg.) Eric used to be on the streets, but now he has a desk job, and his marriage has failed. He also has a bad relationship with his son Daniel (Erik Knudsen), who has been getting into trouble lately. The reason Kerry has contacted Eric is that Jigsaw left a message for Eric two hours ago following the Michael killing, and she needs Eric’s help in tracking Jigsaw down, since Michael was Eric’s informant in the past. Eric looks at the Iron Maiden and notices that was made by Wilson Steel. He and a SWAT team go to the abandoned Wilson Steel factory and find Jigsaw, a.k.a. John Kramer (Tobin Bell.) They also find a row of surveillance monitors there, which all show the creepy house. Inside one of the rooms being monitored are eight victims who have all been kidnapped by John and forced to play one of his twisted games. According to John, they are all people who don’t value life, so if they want to keep their lives, they must play along. John is a cancer patient, and he says that the media are the ones who have dubbed him the “Jigsaw Killer” (because he cuts a piece of flesh out of his past victims in the shape of a puzzle piece), and that he has never murdered anyone in his life. He makes people try to kill themselves to prove the value of their lives. Two of the victims have special circumstances regarding them. One of them happens to be Daniel, which is why Eric probably got the note. The other one is a former drug addict named Amanda (Shawnee Smith.) She is the only one who has ever survived one of John’s games, so she has firsthand knowledge of how to play. The others are new to the game. Gus (Tony Nappo) is a nervous businessman who acts before he thinks. Xavier (Franky G) is a buff drug dealer who is just looking out for himself. Laura (Beverley Mitchell) is a timid woman who has no idea why she is there. Obi (Timothy Burd) is a man who looks like a junkie, but is also secretive and might possibly know more than he has let on. Jonas (Glenn Plummer) is a former convict who has turned his life around and is now more sensible than most criminals are. Addison (Emmanuelle Vaugier) is another former convict who is a little braver than the others are and is more of a risk taker. As soon as she wakes up, Amanda quickly searches for an audiotape that contains instructions on what to do, since she remembers that from the previous game. There is a safe in the room, but the numbers for the safe are “in the back of your mind.” No one has any idea what the voice on the tape is talking about, but the eight of them try to find a way out anyway. According to the tape, the safe contains the antidote for the nerve gas that has seeped into the room and poisoned their blood. It will kill them in two hours, but if they survive and inject the antidote into their blood before that, they will be let go in three hours. They follow another clue about a key that opens the door, but it warns them not to use the key. Gus hastily does it anyway, and he is killed by a gun positioned on the other side of the door (that is the scene you may have seen a few times in the trailer.) They eventually get out of the room, but John has set several other devious traps for them, and they must all work together and use their heads to escape. Meanwhile, Eric interrogates John, but he says that if Eric listens and plays along, he can save his son. Eric tries to work with Kerry and Rigg (Lyriq Bent), the head of the SWAT team, to track down the house before time runs out.
I didn’t see the first Saw at all until the weekend before the screening of the sequel (check the FAQ page to see why I was a little distracted when it originally came out last October), but when I rented it to get ready for the sequel screening, I liked it. I will admit that it was one of Danny Glover’s worst acting performances, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Both movies didn’t really feel like “horror” movies though, at least not in the traditional sense. I would put them up with 1995’s Se7en in terms of comparison. They were really gross, but I wouldn’t call them horrifying (at least they didn’t scare me.) I would consider them thrillers, a la this year’s Red Eye.
This movie was somewhat just like the first movie, except that it had more people in it, and as the tag line says, “oh yes…there will be blood” (it is significantly more bloody this time.) One difference between this movie and the original was that the original left me hanging with one too many unanswered questions. I don’t want to give the secrets of what happens in the sequel, but let me assure you…any questions you may have had about the first movie are answered here, and it leaves you with a new set of unanswered questions in the end that will probably be answered in the inevitable Saw III. Unlike the first movie though, this one left you wanting more in the end instead of frustrating you.
There are three people back from the original movie. Smith, the junkie who survived the first movie, is back, and she is a main character (she only really had one scene in the first one.) Ironically, this movie is the best performance of her career to date, because I always felt her ditzy character on CBS’s “Becker” was annoying (actually…I found “Becker” annoying.) Meyer was in the first movie for like 60 seconds, but she is also a main character in this one. I loved her as Barbara Gordon/The Oracle/Batgirl in the WB series “Birds of Prey,” but I hated her follow-up FOX series “Point Pleasant” from earlier this year. She also does a decent job here. Bell is another TV veteran who was the main bad guy in the first movie, but you didn’t see him for very long in it (you heard his voice throughout, but physically he was represented by the character played by Michael Emerson and that weird puppet thing.) He was a bad guy in this year’s NBC miniseries “Revelations,” a bad guy in season two of FOX’s “24,” and even played Ted Kaczynski in the 1996 USA TV movie “Unabomber: The True Story.” He makes a good bad guy, and in this movie, he has more of a presence (along with that creepy voice.)
Some of the other actors also seem to be veterans of TV. Former New Kid on the Block (a.k.a. “the bad boy”) member Wahlberg is like his brother “Marky” Mark Wahlberg, in that acting is definitely their forte. He started out in movies (with a memorable appearance at the beginning of 1999’s The Sixth Sense), but I think that many people saw his acting chops on the NBC series “Boomtown.” He plays a cop yet again, but that’s okay, because he does it well. G is another actor who started out in movies (he was the muscle in 2003’s The Italian Job), but he failed to become a star in the failed FOX series “Jonny Zero,” even though I didn’t think that he was that bad in it. I don’t want to summarize the credits for all of the other cast members, but the only one left that I wanted to point out was Mitchell. I don’t know if she is trying to follow in her television sister Jessica Biel’s footsteps and break out from behind the shadow of her goody two shoes image on the WB’s “7th Heaven,” but it works. I was almost shocked when our little Lucy Camden Kinkirk used naughty language in this movie. What is she going to do now…a spread for Maxim?
Saw II wasn’t as good as the original movie, but in some ways it was more satisfying. If you liked the original, you will be pleasantly surprised with it’s sequel. I don’t know who I can credit for making a quicky follow-up so good, since the precedent in the past has been that horror movie sequels suck (as most people know by seeing 1997’s actually decent Scream 2), but they seem to have the talent to pull it off. Music video director Darren Lynn Bousman co-wrote (along with the original movie’s co-writer and star, Leigh Whannell) and helmed this one, and Whannell and the original movie’s director and co-writer executive produced it (according to what I heard, they sold the sequel rights so that they could finance other projects.) I can’t wait until Saw III comes out in October of 2006! (I don’t know this for a fact…)
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