‘How much blood would you shed to stay alive?’ serial killer Jigsaw asks one of his victims considering gouging out his eye to escape a fiendish ruse. This is just a taster of the kind of gruesome torture on offer in the sequel to surprise hit Saw (James Wan, 2004), and it is sure give fans of its inventive killing mechanisms a few horror kicks.
Going for the ‘more-is-better’ approach, Saw II swaps the original’s two-men-trapped-in-a-room premise for one of eight-people-locked-in-a-house. Slowly breathing a poisonous gas, they must find the hidden antidotes among a wealth of Jigsaw’s booby traps designed to make them scream with pain. Meanwhile Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) tracks Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) down to a warehouse only to find his son Daniel (Erik Knudson) is among those trapped in the house. Matthews faces a dilemma: be patient and talk with Jigsaw while watching his son and the others slowly die on CCTV, or act before it is too late.
Needles, guns, razor blades and a furnace all provide fiendish components to various puzzles
Rather than dumping the audience in with the victims to maximum disorientating effect, returning screenwriter Leigh Whannell and writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman privilege the audience with the two converging narratives that remove much of the tension. The heated discussions between Jigsaw and Matthews prevent a sustained look into the house that might have made the film more claustrophobic and chilling. Instead, the cop versus mastermind scenes play like dull B-movie negotiator fare until a final act throws in the obligatory twists that finally get them progressing towards a conclusion that provides interesting links with the first film. Similarly the trapped group could have been exploited more fully: they descend into chaos and fighting far too quickly, making it hard to care or have any interest in any of them until the narratives blend together.
However, these misgivings can be forgiven in part as Whannell and Bousman have crafted inventive traps for their characters that will make you squirm. Needles, guns, razor blades and a furnace all provide fiendish components to various puzzles, with Bousman effectively capturing the unsettling choices facing the unsuspecting group. If you want to see grizzly, graphic visuals with smatterings of blood and uncompromising fights with nail-filled baseball bats, Saw II happliy delivers. The let down is the laboured way Bousman lurches to each of these moments via dull exposition and the same tired excuses for Jigsaw’s actions as used in numerous other horror films. There is no denying that Saw II is an effective horror film in terms of its portrayal of suffering; it just lacks the characters that bind that suffering into some sort of empathy for its victims. A cold, heartless thrill. But a thrill nonetheless.