Review: ‘Saw II’

As a sequel, Saw II refuses to conform, even to its own standards. While that leaves some ground uncovered and a lack of any real surprises, fans can smugly enjoy the sequel they all knew was coming.

Jigsaw is back for more blood and games. This one involves a house full of miscreants with something secret in common (instead of just two strangers), but on the outside, a cop name Mason (Donnie Wahlberg) comes face-to-face with the Jigsaw killer (Tobin Bell). On computer monitors in his lair, the strangers can be seen but not heard moving through the house, but the cops dare not make a move since no one knows where the house is. And while Jigsaw isn’t exactly going anywhere, he still has one additional bit of leverage: Mason’s teenage son is among those trapped in Jigsaw’s latest funhouse.

From the shot-in-the-dark original that tried to single-handedly reinvent the horror film by combining it with a psycological thriller, the sequel is less interested in the mystery and more into twists. At this point, we know who Jigsaw is and we know why he does what he does, so what we don’t know is why he’s doing whatever he’s doing to whomever he’s doing it to NOW. That being said, the sequel falls short because it doesn’t answer enough of those very questions.

Problem one is the sheer number of characters. Instead of two men trapped with a body, the thugs and junkies occupying the house are terribly two dimensional; the only one who isn’t only enjoys that benefit from her brief appearance in the original. Even Dina Meyer returning as Detective Kerry is given nothing much to do but look stressed. Also, the house isn’t even the main focus (unlike what the previews show); almost half the film involves a police procedural showdown between Jigsaw and Mason over the status of his son, all of which takes time away from getting to know the people in the house or figuring out the elaborate traps.

Aside from these nitpicks, fans will find plenty of blood, violence, and creepy foreshadowing as victims continue to break Jigsaw’s rules. While Tobin Bell gets a lot more screen time as Jigsaw, the rest of the cast is little more than slasher bait waiting to slather on fake blood and die like good little up-and-coming actors and actresses. So, for those who fell in love with the innovation of the original (but not Cary Elwes), the bad news is that there’s less innovation… but the good news is there’s no crying Cary Elwes. Enjoy it for a quick Halloween fix, but here’s hoping the wide-open and already prepping third film takes heed and blows our socks off, heels, bones, and all.

(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)

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