SAW II – Film Review

Officer Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) realizes that Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is back to playing his evil tricks of locking down people and gruesomely torturing them. Eric has to find a way to set his son and others free from Jigsaw’s dungeon.

From the opening scene of Saw II, it was quite obvious that the director of the previous installment, James Wan, did not helm this follow-up. Wan’s film was physiologically brilliant and was filled to the brim with many twists and turns that blew your mind and kept you on edge all the way from the start to the finish.

Although this gory sequel is not as well-directed as the first, I was even more disappointed to see that it wasn’t nearly as well written either. It’s strange because Leigh Whannell, who penned the script for the original, returned to co-write the script for Saw II with director Darren Lynn Bousman, who ended up directing three additional entries in the series and is even set to helm the upcoming Spiral: From the Book of Saw.

The script here has to be the biggest problem with the movie as a whole. It feels underwhelming and more or less like a retreat of the first with no new surprises in store for fans. A good sequel should take what fans love about the previous installment and find exciting and innovative ways to make the formula even better. Developing characters further, deepening the lore, and exploring the world are just a few things that a lot of filmmakers do with sequels. Take The Empire Strikes Back for example. Screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan took the characters of A New Hope and gave them new and exciting things to do while further exploring their characters. They took fans to new and exciting worlds and continued the storyline of its predecessor in a riveting and entertaining way.

With Saw II, virtually none of those ingredients for success are present. Instead of giving fans a reason to love Saw more, they ultimately made them wish they were watching the first movie again. I know I sure wished I was watching the first instead of this one today.

Erik Knudsen as Daniel Matthews in Saw II (2005).

In many ways, this sequel feels extremely similar to the first and not in a good way. I will give this movie credit for having a creepy atmosphere just like the original, but it feels so similar with its story. A couple of people are trapped in a room and were placed there by John Kramer aka the Jigsaw killer because, in his words, “Those who don’t appreciate life don’t deserve life”. Kramer gives them small clues scattered around the room to aid them in getting out, but no matter what, blood will have to be shed in order for an escape to be a possibility.

Of course, along the way we see several scenes of gruesome kills and unsettling traps that will satisfy the gory horror flick fans, and admittedly, all of the makeup team deserve immense praise for their incredible work here. But when all you have in your film is scene after scene of deaths with no real story, it simply makes for a boring and pointless movie in the long run.

It’s amusing to see what crazy and sick puzzles John Kramer sets up for his unsuspecting victims in the Saw franchise, but really, nearly every film in the series besides the first forgets that telling an intriguing and thrilling story is the most important thing to do. I’m not trying to say that Wan’s Saw is a masterpiece without flaws, because that’s certainly not true. One of the major issues that I had with it was the editing. It was jarring and full of quick cuts and hyper shots that were headache-inducing, to say the least. Sadly, that same editing style is present here as well. In fact, I would actually argue that the editing is actually worse in Saw II. There are plenty of poorly done quick cuts thrown in here, but there are also several slow-motion shots that look absolutely terrible and remarkably outdated.

There are a ton of problems with Saw II. It thinks its telling a great story when really, it’s just telling the same story that its predecessor told but not as interesting or gripping. It’s almost all blood and guts with no real meat on its bones. It’s poorly edited, too. But possibly the most frustrating thing about it all is its ending.

The ending to the first movie has been hailed by many, including myself, as one of the most shocking and mind-blowing twists in cinematic history. No joke. It’s actually kind of amazing how well executed it is. It’s one of those twists that by all accounts, you should see coming but you don’t, and it’s all thanks to an amazing script from Whannell.

It seems as though Whannell and Bousman wanted to replicate that and do another twist ending for the sequel, but instead of being clever and genius like the first film’s twist ending, this one comes across as confusing and annoying. Virtually nothing about it works, and it honestly left me in shock but not in the way the filmmakers had intended it to. Overall though, Saw II isn’t horrendous. It’s just a massively underwhelming sequel that had the potential to be so much better than it ended up being. The ingredients for greatness were right there, but for whatever reason, Whannell and Bousman botched the recipe.

Saw II may have more in store for blood-thirsty horror fans with its gory and twisted traps, but it’s at the expense of telling a compelling story.

Overall Grade: C-

MPAA Rating: R for grisly violence and gore, terror, language and drug content

Cast: Donnie Wahlberg, Franky G, Glenn Plummer, Beverly Mitchell, Dina Meyer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Erik Knudsen, Shawnee Smith, Tobin Bell, Timothy Burd, Lyriq Bent, Noam Jenkins, Tony Nappo

Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman

Distributed by: Lions Gate Films

Release Date: October 28, 2005

Running Time: 93 minutes

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