Rated: R :: Released: 28 October 2005
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman :: Starring: Donnie Wahlberg, Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith
By Michael David Sims
28 October 2005 — I don't want to hate the Saw franchise. Quite the opposite really. But it's hard not to, especially when it's trying too hard to be the next Seven.
What David Fincher's film had that both movies in the Saw family lack is subtlety, character development, a script that made you believe these over-the-top moral crimes could happen, and, most of all, great acting.
Whereas Seven was aimed at a more mature, dare I say sophisticated audience that appreciates these things, Saw, despite its rating, is for the generation that hasn't known life without MTV. Its violence is made flashy by nauseating split-second cuts; the characters have no more dimensions than the booty-shaking dames that are a staple of videos; and, worst of all, everything is so frenetic that what little plot there is isn't so much revealed over the course of the movie, but thrust upon you at the outset and then quickly abandoned for the previously mentioned gritty / MTV / Seven style it's so desperate to capture.
The bigger problem with Saw II, besides what I've already mentioned as being overall issues with the franchise, is that, much like the second A Nightmare on Elm Street, Saw II brings nothing new to the table. Despite every negative word I wrote and spoke about Saw I always praised the concept. And that's why it was saved from a zero out of five. But I can't do the same with the sequel.
Much like last time, a group of strangers awaken to find themselves imprisoned in a trap-filled room... er, house, in this case. If they do not work together within a set amount of time, they will all die. Instead of cutting through chains and flesh, this group is charged with locating antidote-filled syringes that have been scattered about the house. See, the front door will automatically unlock in three hours, however, they only have two hours to live thanks to the noxious gas Jigsaw has been pumping through the vents.
The captives include Amanda (Shawnee Smith; the drug addict who survived the "reverse bear trap" in the first film) and Daniel (Erik Knudsen). I only mention these two because, in truth, they're the only two that matter: Amanda because she has a history with Jigsaw, and Daniel because his father, Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg), is of interest to the killer.
Everyone else in the picture either yells, cries or smashes things because that's what the script says to do, but it never digs into who these people are. Sure, they're expendable, but we're never given a reason to actually care about them. So there's no reason to mourn their deaths.
Not to draw another comparison between the Saw and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, but look at Glen's death in the first NOES. He was the caring boyfriend that stuck by Nancy during Freddy's rampage. We weren't just told he cared about her (as we're told Jonas in Saw II cares about his family); Glen's love for Nancy was clearly shown. So when he died, when Freddy yanked the young Johnny Depp into the bed and spewed his blood all over the room, we were mortified. Wes Craven took the time — not much mind you, but enough — to develop his characters beyond the page. On the other hand, Darren Lynn Bousman doesn't even bother to develop Daniel and Eric... despite the fact that the film is about them.
Jigsaw asks Detective Matthews why, despite their turbulent relationship, he wants to see his son alive again. Matthews's response: "Because he's my son." This answer would fly if we were previously shown that the father-son relationship had some depth. But we're not. In fact, the only time we see them together (before Daniel's kidnapping) is when Eric picks the boy up from the police station. Afterwards, they bark about their shattered past and feverishly part ways. Later, when Eric attempts to call his son, there's a hint of sadness / regret in the father's eyes, but the scene is horribly contrived. (Makes phone call, gets voicemail, hangs up, phone instantly rings back, thinks it's his loved one... it's not, frown sets in.)
So not only are we given zero reasons to worry about those around Daniel — both those that would save and kill him — but Daniel himself proves to be nothing more than a prop for the director and killer to drop into one outlandish situation after the next. Eric also is a toy for Bousman and Jigsaw to manipulate at their whim, but what an uninspired toy he is: the down on his luck, divorced detective with a penchant for cigarettes. Wasn't that Danny Glover's character in Saw?
That leaves us with Amanda. In the first Saw she claimed Jigsaw saved her from a world of painful addiction, so how did she wind up back in one of his Goldbergian traps? In her own words: "I wasn't nice to myself." [insert wrist-slicing scene here] Oooh! Such depth. Sorry if I'm being snarky, but for a movie that bashes its viewers over the head with one flashback after another, you'd think it could take the time to give us more than that. Like maybe, I don't know, how she went from "saved" to cutting her veins open. However, she, like everyone else in the house, keeps her secrets held tightly against her breast. (Of course, she has her reasons. All of which are revealed in the end.)
This bothers me because Jigsaw tells them that they have a common past that they must uncover if they are to unlock the safe that holds one dose of the antidote. But the group never takes the time to actually discuss this. There is a moment when Jonas almost figures it out, but he's interrupted before the thought can be completed. Here was the perfect opportunity for the filmmakers to dig into these characters and for the characters to show some semblance of life, but it was pissed away for more frights, house-wide chase and "you're not listening to me" moments between Jigsaw and Detective Matthews.
In the end, really, it boils down to the fact that Saw was and always will be a one-trick pony. (Oh, how they make this painfully clear!) But as long as the second MTV generation continues to float their cash across the counter, Lions Gate Films will continue to milk the series for all its worth. And I have no doubt that LGF will pump sequel after sequel out as an annual Halloween tradition. Because Heaven forbid they actually allow the crew enough time to write and film a proper, suspenseful horror film when moviegoers are more than willing to pay for the garbage that's being shoveled down their gullets.
Stars: 0 of 5