Saw II

After I brought my jaw back up when it considerably dropped at the end of Saw II, I pondered whether it fit within the happenings of sequel and predecessor, or whether it instead sparked a ton of questions. It was the latter with Saw’s final twist, which was just as stunning as it was hard to believe for a number of reasons. And I have concluded that the twist in this latest offering is pure demonic brilliance in concept and execution, a true shocker which demands both familiarity with the first film and avoidance of specific ideas about where the second one might be taking you to maximize the surprise.

If you love horror films you’re no doubt familiar with Saw, the mega-hit of last year’s Halloween, a film that cost a little more than a million, grossed 35 M $ after two weeks (including an 18 M $ opening) and went on to make 55 M $ in the USA. It was the brainchild of Australians James Wan as director and Leigh Whannell as screenwriter and co-star, and it was a raw vision of terror that obviously scored big with genre fans. It introduced us to the serial killer nicknamed Jigsaw and to his evil games, whose twisted purpose was to make people appreciate being alive by placing them in traps that virtually guaranteed their gruesome deaths.

This time Darren Lynn Bousman is the director, and he shares the writing credits with Whannell. Cinematographer David O. Armstrong and composer Charlie Clouser are back and they bring well-done continuity to the proceedings. The music, for example, is still foreboding and nervous but more restrained than in Saw. The story is very good but the film loses some points because of a definite lull in intensity before the final revelation and also because as clever as it is, the film comes close to cheating in terms of its editing.

The movie begins with one of several gory death scenes. A police informant has fallen victim to Jigsaw after finding himself in a death mask, with the only way out of it too horrific to attempt. This leads to the involvement of Det. Matthews (a solid Donnie Wahlberg), who has a difficult relationship with his teenage son Daniel. A day later, John the Jigsaw killer is captured by the authorities, but not before he has locked eight people unrelated to one another, including Daniel, in a house where they’ve been breathing a deadly nerve gas. Through his usual tape recorders, Jigsaw tells them the only way they can survive is by finding the antidotes he has hidden somewhere inside the booby-trapped house. John, played once again by an excellent Tobin Bell, also starts a battle of wits with the detective, who hears more than he would want to about his own past. We also get some good background, although the insight is not entirely satisfactory, about the motivations of this unusual killer, a moralizing terminal cancer patient.

The eight people trapped in the room where the game starts are played by people that quite frankly I’ve never heard of, except for Shawnee Smith playing Amanda, the sole survivor of Jigsaw’s deadly games in the first outing. Boy, this girl can’t seem to catch a break. Also noteworthy are Erik Knudsen as Daniel, Glenn Plummer as Jonas, Emmanuelle Vaugier as Addison and Franky G as Xavier. Acting is by and large decent but unremarkable, and with that many people there’s always someone who stands out in ways that aren’t necessarily good. That’s the case with Franky G, who basically plays Xavier as a more extreme version, if that can be, of Maurice Dean Wint’s Quentin in Cube.

But all things considered, Saw II easily remains one of the year’s best horror films. It’s even more audacious than the original, it has plenty to satisfy gore aficionados and the “Holy shit!” ending puts it a good notch above the vast majority of the horror films of 2005. Don’t trick yourself out of such a treat this Halloween.

Review by Jean-François Tremblay