The original “Saw” caused a great deal of excitement upon its release (barely a year ago). Brutally graphic and based on an interesting concept – chain two apparent strangers in an abandoned bathroom and pit them against each other and the clock – it was one of the more well-received horror movies to come out in recent years. This in spite of some gaping plot holes, sketchy acting, and an ending that, once you actually stopped to think about it, was pretty much an insult to everyone in the audience.
Still, it made money, so Lions Gate has wasted little time in putting together a sequel in time for Halloween. “Saw 2” manages to avoid some of the problems of its predecessor, while at the same time introducing a few new ones.
Unlike in the first movie, “Saw 2” lays everything out for us fairly straight. The police have discovered the lair of the notorious serial killer Jigsaw (after a decidedly gory intro involving his police informant victim) and the jig (heh) would seem to be up, except that detectives Kerry (Dina Meyer) and Mason (Donnie Wahlberg) have discovered, through the wonders of video technology, that Jigsaw isn’t quite finished. He has imprisoned eight people this time, including Mason’s son Daniel, in a house loaded with booby traps which the prisoners must negotiate before the nerve agent they’ve been breathing in kills them in a few hours. What follows is half police interrogatory (“Law and Order” guest starring Hannibal Lecter, with more profanity), and half countdown to extinction for our trapped protagonists.
Of course, in order to be protagonists, the audience should find you somewhat sympathetic, and one of the drawbacks to rushing your sequel to theaters is that there’s not a lot of time to hone dialogue and performances. In the original “Saw,” the sub-par acting had a sort of underdog charm, here it’s annoying. With few exceptions, we don’t care about the prisoners. None of them have any interest in coming together to solve their mutual problem and don’t even seek out the advice of the one person in their midst who’s survived the killer’s machinations before (Shawnee Smith, returning as ex-junkie Amanda). As it is, we’re left ticking them off one by one as they each fall victim to the killer’s nefarious Rube Goldberg-on-PCP deathtraps.
Thrusting Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) into the spotlight is a bit of a double-edged sword. He’s humanized to some degree, which isn’t a bad thing, but finding out what makes him tick ultimately proves anti-climactic. Bell does okay, and at least offers a somewhat more nuanced counterpoint to Wahlberg’s monotonous rage at being unable to rescue his kid.
At the heart of it all is Jigsaw’s apparently earnest desire to get people to appreciate their lives, albeit by subjecting them to many and sundry grotesque tortures. He’s like John Keating from “Dead Poet’s Society,” if Keating used hypodermic needles and hacksaws instead of Walt Whitman. Also, Keating wouldn’t have been fired from Welton Academy, but would instead have paved the way for another sequel in an ending even more ridiculous than that of the first “Saw.”
Bottom line: if you thought the original “Saw” was entertaining, you’ll like the sequel. Writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman and writer Leigh Whannell have amped up the gore and thrown even more twists at us to keep things off kilter. If, on the other hand, you thought the first one was laughably plotted and acted, and tried to cover up its ridiculous plot contrivances with obnoxious editing tricks and entrails, “Saw 2” may not be your bag.