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Saw 2
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Darren Lynn Bousman (director) and Leigh Whannell (screenwriter)
Genre:   Horror
Released:   October 28, 2005
Review Date:   December 05, 2005
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

He's testing us. He wants us to survive.

Last Halloween, Twisted Pictures and Lion's Gate films unleashed a decent little horror movie called Saw. It had problems, but it also had a lot of promise. The movie made quite a splash at the box office, so a sequel was inevitable. Now the Law of Sequels is that the follow up to a great movie always sucks, but Saw wasn't great. So it falls into the Star Trek: The Motion Picture corollary: You can get fantastic follow-ups to middling movies. (And the hate mail begins.)

Saw 2 opens with Jigsaw's latest victim in a pretty nasty deathtrap. This helps to reacquaint us with his motivations and methodology: He finds a person with what he sees as a flaw, places them in an "ironic" trap, then leaves them to overcome it and live, or fail and die. Pretty simple and effective.

We then jump forward a few weeks and we meet police detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg). He's your typical hard-case detective: divorced, unable to connect with his teenage son Daniel (Erik Knudsen), and has problems with alcohol and his temper. Matthews is called to the scene of the opening murder by fellow detective Kerry (Dina Meyer, reprising her small role in the original), who now heads the hunt for Jigsaw. The reason Matthews is brought in is simple; Jigsaw (played very well by Tobin Bell) scrawled a message to him in the victim's blood.

Matthews and Kerry find a clue that leads them to where they think Jigsaw's lair might be, and they lead a SWAT raid on an abandoned metalworking factory. Now, here's one of the few flaws I found in the movie: You would think that the police, knowing that they're going after a guy with a penchant for deathtraps, would be wary of how they charge into his hideout. You would be wrong, and several officers pay the price. They still manage to find Jigsaw there, calmly waiting for them. It seems he wanted to be caught, because he wants to speak with Matthews. Why? Because Jigsaw has placed Daniel, along with a few other poor souls, in his biggest deathtrap yet.

Jigsaw (who I keep wanting to call Jiggy for some reason) has rigged up what seems to be an abandoned house with several deathtraps, and filled it with a small group of people who all have some unknown connection. Among them are Xavier (Franky G), a drug dealer; Obi, a con man, Jonas, a recovering addict; and Amanda (Shawnee Smith), the one person who has managed to escape from one of Jigsaw's traps, back in the first movie. She finds the tape that tells the group their perilous situation. The house is slowly being filled with a nerve toxin and they have just two hours to either escape the building or find the syringes filled with the antidote hidden throughout the house. The building also has a small surveillance camera in each room sending back to Jigsaw's hideout, so the police can see what's happening.

When Matthews finds out that his son is in the house, Jigsaw tells him that he is playing a game with Matthews while the game in the house is transpiring. From here the movie flows back and forth between the police trying to figure out where the house is, Matthews and Jigsaw's verbal cat and mouse game, and the attrition of the group in the house as they find more deathtraps, one specifically designed for each member of the group. Secrets are revealed, tension mounts and bodies pile up right along side until we reach a breathless climax.

Saw II manages to fix just about everything that was wrong with Saw. It keeps what worked: the inventive, character-driven traps, the gritty feeling, great direction, the wonderful slow build of tension. It drops what didn't work: the over-reliance on flashbacks, too much jumping back and forth, and occasional hideous overacting. We also get a much deeper look at Jigsaw himself and his motivations.

The movie's riveting, white-knuckled climactic scene will make you either look away or stare on in horror.

The actors, with one exception, are fantastic in the movie. Jigsaw is creepy and magnetic, Xavier is a scary, menacing thug, and Wahlberg is very convincing and does a great slow burn. The exception is Dina Meyer, who would be a lot better if she weren't trying so hard. She exudes this air of "Look! I'm ACTING! I'm not just a pretty face!" and it takes away from her performance. But like the other flaws in this movie, it's small and very forgivable.

Saw was a decent movie hampered by a few glaring flaws. Saw II is a superior film that learns from the mistakes of its predecessor and exceeds it, which is just what Jigsaw wants from us all.

RevSF Spankmuppet Gary Mitchel loves the climatic scenes in movies. But he hates it when movies are set indoors. That’s anti-climatic.

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