The “Saw II” poster with its severed fingers and to-the-point tagline, “Oh yes, there will be blood,” promises even more gruesome games, more sinister traps and more psychological torment. For better or for worse, “Saw II” delivers on all of the above.
“Saw II” was produced with a $5 million budget– up from the $1.2 million budget of the original. Like many horror series that begin in an isolated location, the environment in “Saw II” was greatly expanded. But the reasoning behind the shift in direction has more to do with the origin of the script, which started as a completely different film.
With the success of the original ($103.9 million at the box office), a sequel was inevitable. However, writing duo James Wan and Leigh Whannell were busy working on their next horror film, “Dead Silence.” While searching for a new script, “Saw“ producer Gregg Hoffman discovered director Darren Lynn Bousman, who was pitching his own movie called “The Desperate,” which other studios rejected for being too violent and similar to “Saw.” Hoffman’s partners agreed to turn Bousman’s script (with some polishing from Whannell and input from Wan) into a part of the “Saw” universe.
“Saw II” centers around two plot lines. First, Detective Matthews and a SWAT team track down “The Jigsaw Killer” John Kramer in his lair. There, Matthews discovers monitors that show that another “game” is in progress– the second plot line. One of the victims is Matthews’ son. Matthews attempts to extract information out of Kramer to helps his son, while the the eight players work their way through an elaborate house of traps and games.
The jigsaw origin story is explored further. For many fans who are primarily drawn to the series’ psychological elements, this is the most engaging part of the series. While being questioned, Jigsaw confesses that he attempted suicide after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Upon being enlightened by the near-death experience, he decides to dedicate the rest of his life to helping others experience this same type of life-changing transformation.
“Saw II” suffers from the same kind of problems that the original (as well as Wan and Whannell’s “Dead Silence”) had. Most of the characters are generic and 2-dimensional, and the dialog is often laughably bad. Early in the film, the stereotypical macho thug snaps at the stereotypical promiscuous female, “Look who’s talking, the only door you know how to open is between ya’ legs!” Donnie Wahlberg’s portrayal of Detective Matthews is particularly poor.
But for all of the vapid dialog and overly-stylized, seizure-inducing cinematography, “Saw II” builds on the foundation of the “Saw” universe in a sadistically fascinating manner. It’s easy to dismiss the entire “Saw” franchise as torture porn garbage. But there are creative ideas and narrative innovations that redeem this and other “Saw” entries from the pitfalls associated with “torture porn” horror flicks.
Greetings… and welcome. I trust that you are all wondering where you are. I can assure you that while your location is not important, what these walls offer for your is important… salvation, if you earn it.
The mystery of the original is traded for more creative traps and “games” in the sequel. Because Jigsaw pumps toxic fumes into the rooms where the eight players fight for survival, the characters have a limited amount of time before they die of poisoning. There’s a sense of urgency in both “Saw” and “Saw II.” But in the latter, there an element of intense torment that makes the film even more difficult to watch.
Backstories also play a major role this time around. As the characters begin frantically trying to figure out how they’ll survive Jigsaw’s brutal tricks and traps, he reveals more about what they did to deserve being in their current situation. Jigsaw’s personality mirrors a messier and less sophisticated version of Kevin Spacey’s character in “Seven” and Brad Pitt’s character in “Fight Club.” But his character’s depth culminates in the sequel’s rather satisfying twist ending.
“Saw II” and other entries of the franchise benefit from a captivating over-arching narrative that’s lacking in similar films like “Hostel.” The “Saw” films are far from masterpieces, but there’s a lot to explore in the series’ many twists and turns– given that you’re able to stomach the gore.