Monday, October 31, 2005

Movie Review: Saw II

United States, 2005
U.S. Release Date: 10/28/05
Running Time: 1:33
Rated: R (grisly violence and gore, terror, language, and drug content)
Cast: Donnie Wahlberg, Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Franky G, Beverley Mitchell, Dina Meyer, Glenn Plummer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Erik Knudsen, Tony Nappo, Noam Jenkins, Lyriq Bent, Tim Burd, John Fallon

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Producers: Peter Block, Jason Constantine, Stacey Testro, James Wan, Leigh Whannell
Screenplay: Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannel
Music: Charlie Clouser
Studio: Lions Gate Films

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Following the success of last October’s overrated independent horror hit Saw, Lions Gate Films and Twisted Pictures immediately began scampering around like chickens with their heads cut off. What they sought was an already written screenplay to adapt into a Saw sequel. Luckily, they found Darren Lynn Bousman’s “The Departed”—a story that features eight people trapped in a house of torture.

Once the rights to Bousman’s script were acquired, returning screenwriter Leigh Whannell was instantly assigned to work with Bousman in morphing his premise into what would be Saw II. While the duo’s product does preserve the same dark, gritty texture of Saw—equipped with another revelation ending, this time – with a new writer/director – Saw II features a tighter plot, improved acting, and more crimson-colored liquid.

When Jigsaw (Tobin Hall) is captured by the authorities, the police believe that his games have ceased. However, upon uncovering Jigsaw’s lair, detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) also unveils a series of monitors, which display a video-feed of eight people trapped in an unidentifiable house. Among these eight people are Eric’s son (Eric Knudsen) and a previous survivor of one of Jigsaw’s tests named Amanda (Shawnee Smith). Eric is told that his son and the seven others will die in two hours due to a nerve agent that poisons each player with each breath. Considering there is a tremendous lack of leadership within the group of eight, Eric and his one-time partner Kerry (Dina Meyer) must figure out the location of the house and not forget that at all times they are subjected to Jigsaw’s rules.

Even though N.K.O.T.B.’s Donnie Wahlberg and “Becker”’s Shawnee Smith aren’t exactly the cream-of-the-crop off of Hollywood's shelf, they still dole out better acting than the original’s Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, and Danny Glover combined. In addition, Tobin Hall takes center-stage and leads the cast with his sadistic portrayal of Jigsaw. His dialogue with Donnie Wahlberg’s character – explaining his motives – is the film’s highlight in terms of spoken word.

There is no doubt that Saw II – like its precursor – is not for the squeamish. In some of the film’s most disturbing scenes a man must extract his right eyeball in order to live, a pyromaniac is burned within the walls of an oven, and a drug addict is literally thrown into a pool of hypodermic needles. On the other hand, these scenes should come as no surprise to any fan of the first film—considering (right from the get-go) the villain forewarns, “Oh yes, there will be blood.”

In more ways than one, Saw II is most certainly a step ahead of its predecessor. Even though common gripe would be the lack of character development given to each of the victims, individual backstories of expendable characters are typically unimportant in the horror genre. For pumping out a sequel only one year after the original’s release, the result is pretty impressive. On the flipside, with more funds in the Saw cash drawer, it is evident that both Bousman and Whannell must have purchased a whet stone pre-production—because this time around, the blade was wisely sharpened prior to pushing the record button and allowing the butchery to begin.

Surely, the Saw films have defined themselves as the horror franchise of the new millennium. While Saw II isn’t exactly faultless, you get more bang for your buck--compared to the original. Bring on the third and fourth installments. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005