Review: Saw II

The film is unable to deliver the single novel concept or unexpected surprise that might justify its existence.

Saw II
Photo: Lions Gate Films

Unable to deliver the single novel concept or unexpected surprise that might justify its existence, Saw II instead takes the predictable route of plagiarizing its predecessor while unimaginatively going into exposition overdrive regarding the backstory of its central fiend, the ludicrously diabolical Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). Still intent on forcing degenerate captives to play gory games in which they must risk, and usually sacrifice, body parts in return for freedom (and supposed spiritual salvation), Jigsaw focuses his attention this time around on Detective Eric Mason (Donnie Wahlberg), a recently divorced cop with dubious conviction methods and a juvenile delinquent son named Daniel (Erik Knudsen) who hates him. Mason finds himself in a bind when, after investigating a murder involving a spike-filled, timer-triggered death mask (sound familiar?), he locates the wheelchair-bound, cancer-striken Jigsaw, who’s kidnapped Daniel and locked the boy, along with an assortment of other strangers, in a house filling with poisonous gas. Initially stuck in a room, Daniel and his hysterical comrades eventually make their way out into the rest of the house, only to suffer ghastly deaths courtesy of Jigsaw’s dismembering Rube Goldberg-ian traps. Yet aside from a squirm-worthy scene involving a pit of filthy hypodermic syringes, director Darren Lynn Bousman’s sadistic set pieces—lacking the oppressive claustrophobia of the first film’s bathroom-set sequences—turn out to be as dull as a rusty blade. And moreover, his moralizing, killing-as-performance-art villain and aesthetic preference for rotting greens and yellows have been (as they were in the original) lifelessly photocopied from Se7en. Jigsaw’s prisoners all share a mysterious connection that’s maintained by the screenplay’s disingenuous decision to have characters barrel headfirst into trouble rather than calmly and collectively assess their situation. Yet aside from seizure-inducing music video editing, narrative sloppiness is the name of this thriller’s game, a fact most egregiously confirmed when the initial actions of one hostage immediately, and obviously, give away the film’s climactic narrative twist. Finally caving into his interrogators, Jigsaw—in homage to Wes Craven’s controversial horror classic—tells Mason that his ghastly penitentiary is “the last house on the left.” Considering its slapdash, shallow construction, however, it’s an allusion the shoddy Saw II is unfit to make.

 Cast: Tobin Bell, Donnie Wahlberg, Shawnee Smith, Erik Knudsen, Franky G, Tim Burd, Lyriq Bent, Beverley Mitchell, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Dina Meyer  Director: Darren Lynn Bousman  Screenwriter: Darren Lynn Bousman, Leigh Whannell  Distributor: Lions Gate Films  Running Time: 93 min  Rating: R  Year: 2005  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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