dir: Darren Lynn Bousman
The question was never “Will it be as good as Saw?” It was more along the lines of “Can they come up with a ending even dumber and more insulting that the first one?”
What Saw had going for it a macabre sense of humour, a diseased looking mise en scene and ‘scary’ dark cinematography, and a sense of menace and cruel irony. It had against it some truly terrible acting and an ending which did the equivalent of throwing up in the audience’s lap when the issue regarding the villain was revealed as having less to do with his identity, and more to do with his location.
Saw II has against it the fact that it is a sequel to a flick that really didn’t deserve to become such a hit in the first place, and one that wasn’t really crying out for a sequel anyway. When a flick is as cheap as Saw was, the overheads are so low that the company picking it up for distribution can afford to promote the hell out of it because they’ve only paid a piddling amount for it in the first place.
Also, what little might have had the faintest whiff of innovative or original thought in the first one needs must be pushed through the blandification process in order to serve up thick dollops of a second helping. Instead of two people waking up in a strange location and having to jump through sadistic hoops in the hope of escaping the clutches of a madman, now there’s a bunch of them.
Leigh Whannell, who managed to stink up the first one in both positive (writing) and negative (acting) ways, returns only in a writing capacity. Previous director James Wan has gone onto bigger and presumably crappier things. New director for the franchise Darren Lynn Bousman’s main claim to fame thus far is that he was a production assistant on philosophical character study and dramatic college tour de force Van Wilder. I shudder just writing about it.
Here he brings the ADHD and learning disabilities of a confirmed Asperger’s sufferer to the project, imbuing the weak material with his meagre talents. Apparently, the screenplay was initially written by Housman years ago as his own horror story. They decided to convert it into a Saw property after the success of the first film, and brought in Whannell to help with the renovations. What joy…
A bunch of deadbeats wake up in a sealed house. They don’t know each other and they don’t know why they’re there. A disembodied voice in the form of a tape recorder informs them that they have been placed there because they (long story short) don’t appreciate their lives. Unless they work really hard to get out, they’re going to die in about two hours time.
Among these lab rats is a person who recognises the scenario, because she survived it in the first film. Amanda (Shawnee Smith) tries to help guide the various idiots through the maze, but, hell, who’s going to listen to her?
Outside of the house, in parallel, a policeman played by someone who used to be in the New Kids on the Block, who will wear that title around his neck like a nerve gas- filled, lead albatross, tries to find out where the house is so he can rescue the unlucky losers within. One of them happens to be his teenage son.
The cop is brought into this by a message left at a crime scene by a criminal mastermind / genius / engineer / sociopath named Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) by the police and the media. He prefers to be called John.
John is a sweet kind of guy. He’s wheelchair-bound, and huffs oxygen from a mask every now and then. He looks a bit haggard and poorly, like me after a medium to serious bender.
He’s dying, you see. It’s quite sad. Motivated by his sense of mortality, he decides he wants to share with people the wisdom he has gleaned from his approaching date with Death. So he selects people who he feels are wasting their lives, and puts them in death defying situations to inspire them to greatness.
By his logic, the elaborate death traps and sadistic scenarios will do either of two things: a) get them to appreciate the wonders of life so that they no longer continue wasting it by forcing them to perpetrate some wicked form of mutilation upon themselves or someone else, or b) remove them from the gene pool.
In the first film it was slowly revealed that there was more of a moralistic edge to Jigsaw’s actions and thinking, almost in the same sense that motivated the killer in Fincher’s film Se7en, from which both these films borrow heavily. He had a bemusement with people who he saw squandering the possibilities of existence that, for himself, were rapidly dwindling. He would also claim that he himself never killed people, he only put people in situations where they had a choice, in order to inspire their instinct for self-preservation.
In the second film, all of this is discarded, as in fact it was crap to begin with anyway. The killer’s ethos is just a smokescreen. It gives them a chance to have someone mumble through expository dialogue so they don’t have to have a voice over. It kills some time in between the killings, that’s all. There’s little of genuine interest in a guy they would like to think is the next Hannibal Lecter. Really, he’s about as menacing as a bad waiter.
He tries. The scenarios are mildly amusing, the various traps and elaborate contraptions hold some interest, but there’s not much of a real story here. The plot ends up with not one, not two, but three twists, two of which are dependant on plot conceits so breathtaking that they make the ending of the first look almost believable in comparison. And anyone who saw that first Saw knows the ending was an insult to all sentient beings; living, dead or just pretending.
But Saw did have virtues, did have its merits. Its low budget forced them to make the film in ways bigger budgets wouldn’t allow, with a very slow build and mostly relaxed editing. The manner in which it started off worked superbly in being unsettling and confusing, for us and for the two shmucks awaking to find themselves trapped in a maniac’s dollhouse. The grimy and dirty aesthetics added to it, the killer’s rationale seemed oddly meaningful. Some scenes of great sadism but little gore, such as someone holding a gun to a child’s head and listening to her elevated heartbeat with a stethoscope, also elevated the material above the commonplace. The ending, despite the twist, was very bleak.
There is little of that overall aesthetic here. The gore scenes are over-edited, rendering them pointless, the acting in general is as mediocre as the first (though nothing is as bad as the trio of performances put in by Whannell, Cary Elwes and Danny Glover), and no one does much of anything that makes sense in our earthly realm of existence. Nothing any of the cops do in this flick makes sense. At all. The protagonist’s actions don’t make much sense either, except for those of the psychopaths. They make perfect sense.
The opening scene is probably the most vicious and the only one that really had me squirming. The rest is pointless and complicated, overly and impossibly complicated, and requires people to either do incredibly stupid things in sequence, or requires a god-like predictive ability that no person with a massive frontal lobe tumour could possess.
Just to get back to one of the gore scenes, and how badly it is realised, it reminded me of primary school. Let’s say you’re in a painting or drawing class. You decide to draw a scary picture, with lots of crayon reds and blacks, knives and horns and such. You take it up to someone else and show it to them, expecting them to be shocked out of their socks and jocks.
They look at the drawing, look at you, then roll their eyes and get back to their work. You say, “No, look, it is scary,” and then proceed to shake the drawing really fast, bringing it close to their face and pulling it back and forth repeatedly until they get a look of nausea on their face. “Yeah, it is scary,” you tell yourself, and get back to chewing on your bloody crayons and working on your next magnum opus.
The whole film is like that. You weren’t expecting anything different, though. Be honest.
To be more honest though, it’s still probably a better film overall than the first one. I just didn’t like it as much, it made little sense, and the plot holes were so goddamn big that they need to come up with a new word to describe plot holes the size of planets.
6 times I wanted to kill all the characters myself, not with traps and nerve gas and complicated devices but with their own heavy wallets out of 10
Addison: “Why don't you shut the hell up, all right?
Xavier: “Why don't you shut the hell up?” – the quality of scripts written on beer mats, Saw II