Sequels can sometimes surprise you. We’ve all been disappointed so many times by sub-par revisits to established stories that most of us groan when we learn a another outing is in the cards for a film we loved at first glance. Occasionally, though, a remake manages to bring a new and delightful twist to the story and, as an audience member, you’re genuinely thrilled with the new dimension you’re exposed to. This is not the case with Saw II; while the first movie was fueled by an orgy of sadistic images of the most grisly variety, Saw managed to be a smart melange of horror styles tied into a compelling story about the hardwired animal instincts we possess to survive. Saw II has none of this. Instead, it is a transparent attempt to mine the esteem the first film earned for its raw acting without offering any fresh, interesting perspectives on how to use a scalpel to remove keys from your own person.
Don’t get me wrong: Fans of the first film’s pornographic portrayal of murder most foul will not be disappointed. There are enough money-shots of eye-gouging to keep the most elite skullfucker more than happy. Blood is splattered, smeared, and vomited by the gallons — and all in unflattering fluorescent lighting, natch. Saw II is, to its credit, careful not to break its contract with the audience to provide what has to be the most unsettling collection of images seen outside a Dario Argento gorefest.
But Saw II fails to bring back the gritty, absorbing storytelling of its predecessor, and this is too bad. It feels formulaic, as though trying to check off its cliches-we-must-have-in-a-horror-film. And while it is unapologetically nasty as its “Oh Yes …There Will Be Blood” tagline implies, it is also trite. By this time involving a police officer in the storyline, it forces us to endure both a one-on-one expository Q & A between Jigsaw, Saw’s carcinogen-infested murderer, and Donnie Wahlberg that draws unfavorable comparisons to The Usual Suspects. Meanwhile, an expanded cast of victims has been forced to struggle through Jigsaw’s maniacal, metal-laden survival “tests” and has only a few hours to escape without all ending up dead, as if anyone in the audience thinks that any of them will.
Kudos are due Wahlberg, though, who does a great job in this role, though its conception is a pale shadow of Ray Liotta’s role in Narc. Also worth a mention is an ensemble cast with plenty of acting chops, all of which are completely wasted here. Because, let’s be frank: Those who come to see Saw II care about one thing, and that’s how convincing a death mask these folks can muster as they’re burned, stabbed, clubbed, garroted, sliced and shot. Special mention should also go out to an appearance by Beverley Mitchell, she of “7th Heaven” fame. I was flustered to note that she USED THE S-WORD!!! AND she was wearing a VERY LOW-CUT TOP!!! Are the producers of America’s favorite Jesus-fest aware? This may be as big a brouhaha as it was when cast-mate Jessica Biel got in hot water for wanting to show her tatas.
I should come clean at this point and let you know that I am not a horror film fan. I, in fact, loathe them. But I’m always willing to have my mind changed by something I’ve dismissed. And I was taken aback by the ambitions within this film to not only nauseate me with its fearless depictions of the scope of human cruelty but to impress me with a story full of compelling drama, as Saw did. Instead, I was disappointed to realize it felt like I was watching a scary movie that was haunted — by the ghosts of other films. Saw II just isn’t successful in making its obvious homages more than that. For those who are looking for a horror film that merges genuine emotional and visual terror, Saw II is a pass. But for the many Halloween thrill-seekers who enjoyed the first film — and others of its ilk — this will be a fun, efficient festival of mutilation. Oh, ye of weak stomachs, take note: Don’t do what I did and eat half a bag of popcorn pre-movie, as the minute Shawnee Smith begins slitting her wrists on screen you’re sure to want to puke right back into that paper tub. You’re welcome.
Brandy Barber is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York. You can check out her weblog Hatefully Charming.Saw II / Brandy Barber
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()