Saw, the surprise breakout hit of last Halloween, was an interesting piece of cinema.
On one hand, there were certain things in it that worked extraordinarily well.
The concept and most of the execution of a simple, unnerving premise (a killer does not actually kill his victims, he puts them in situations where they eventually end up taking their own lives) managed to achieve a good creepy David Fincher-type vibe for the majority of the running time.
However, the ending collapsed on itself when it attempted to execute one of the more out of left field, nonsensical plot twists in recent memory. Alfred Hitchcock coined the phrase “refrigerator movies,” which refers to movies that hold up well until you really start to think about them (like when you’re getting a snack from the refrigerator).
Saw took this term one step further and actually visibly fell apart right there on the screen. The acting was also a problem, with everyone taking an overtly serious, ham-fisted approach to what was obviously meant to be nothing more than a gore movie.
This quickie sequel is a different movie in a lot of ways, but it is altogether more successful.
Instead of Cary Elwes, who seemed to think he was doing Shakespeare in Saw, this time we get actors like Donnie Wahlberg (the balder of the Wahlberg brothers, also a former member of the New Kids On The Block) and Franky G (who?) hammering out solid B-movie dialogue in suitably monotonous tones.
That is exactly what Saw II is. It is an above average, high concept B movie. What puts it past the first one, however, is this time around, everyone involved seems to know exactly what they’re involved in. There are no delusions of grandeur to be found here.
We pick up more or less where we left off, with the terminally ill Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) attempting to teach various moral and ethical lessons via various implements of torture.
This time, he has captured a group of people, including the son of Detective Eric Matthews (Wahlberg).
He has locked them in a house rigged with horrible booby traps. He has also taken the trouble to pump in a nerve agent through the vents, forcing the group to work together to find an antidote. Also returning from the first movie is Amanda (Shawnee Smith, last seen digging around through a man’s intestines), who has a substantially bigger part this time around.
The movie cuts in between the group of people in the funhouse and Wahlberg talking to Jigsaw, trying to determine the house’s whereabouts. Both sequences are equally engaging.
The house is fun to watch because of the macabre death scenes, and Wahlberg’s scenes are made enjoyable by Tobin Bell, who turns in a creepy sociopathic performance very much in the vein of Hannibal Lector.
Just like the first one, this movie folds back in on itself a bit for a surprise ending, but this one feels much less forced and more organic than its predecessor.
The ending also sets the film up for at least one more sequel. This is sort of exciting. With Nightmare On Elm Street, Child’s Play, and Friday The 13th all becoming a little too cute for their own good and Halloween running on fumes, Hollywood could use a new slasher franchise.
If good, creative people keep coming up with different ways to approach this concept, Saw very well could fill that void.
Chuck DelRoss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.