Darren Lynn Bousman
Leigh Whannell, Darren Lynn Bousman
Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Donnie Wahlberg, Erik Knudsen, Franky G, Glenn Plummer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Leight Whannell, Mpho Koaho, Beverley Mitchell, Tim Burd, Barry Flatman, Lyriq Bent, Dina Meyer
R (For grisly violence and gore, terror, language and drug content)
What you might expect from a sequel to one of the bloodiest horror films ever released is certainly not what you get from Saw II, the first sequel to the hugely popular redemptive torture flick.
Trying to find a balance between recreating the suspense and entertainment value of the original while creating something truly original often means dire results for horror franchises. As a perfect example, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, which I’ve grown to like more in recent years than I did during the height of popularity of the series, went a darker, more sinister direction with the series than the first film and ultimately performed poorly, earning a place at or near the bottom of most Elm Street fans’ rankings. The same could easily be said for films like Friday the 13th, The Hills Have Eyes 2 and any number of other films. While Saw II never fully captures the inventiveness of the original, it is a surprisingly entertaining and adequate follow up.
The second film takes off similarly to the original, opening with a maniacal device threatening to kill its victim if he can’t buck up and conquer his fears. It has very little to do with the film as a whole, but it successfully sets the tone. The film then follows Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) as he follows a tip that leads him to the lair of the famed Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and, surprise, he’s actually home. Held as prisoner, Jigsaw reveals his plan and purpose of being captured to Matthews.
Matthews’ son Daniel (Erik Knudsen) is one of a house full of game players Jigsaw has collected. A deadly nerve gas has been pumped into the house and the victims have little time to escape or die. Daniel doesn’t know why he’s there, but alongside Jigsaw’s first survivor, Amanda (Shawnee Smith), the secret is that all of the people in the house were busted by Daniel’s father.
Through a cat-and-mouse game Jigsaw plays with Matthews, the events play out in tandem throughout the film until the final frames reveal the purpose and result of the game, creating some measure of surprise.
Wahlberg so rarely gets good roles and it’s good to see he’s up for the challenge. He’s surprisingly effective in his role delivering a performance I never would have expected. But, his is the only performance of note. However, with horror films, you’re not exactly watching for the great performances to stand up against Brando, Davis, Hepburn or Grant. But, the acting here isn’t the train wreck most often associated with these kinds of productions, which is a welcome relief.
And, on top of that, having the original’s co-author Leigh Whannell along to assist director Darren Lynn Bousman with the script helped keep some of the cohesion in the two stories, which end up intertwining in ways the audience doesn’t see coming.
This is the kind of follow up that makes you glad they did so well. Scream 2 was the last horror sequel I can remember that was anywhere near as good as the original. Granted, being on the second incarnation, some of the novelty is wearing off, but what you have with Saw II is a worthy secondary.
September 23, 2009