SAW II (Darren Lynn Bousman, 2005)
The Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) rounds up a new group of people to play his twisted game in SAW II. As in SAW, the terminal cancer patient puts his potential victims, who he feels take their lives for granted, through what might generously be described as shock therapy. (A more accurate characterization is cruel, unusual, and oftentimes fatal punishment). The selected game players are taken against their wills, placed in an extreme situation and provided with clues to their survival if they are willing to break through the barriers holding them back in life.
In SAW II the chosen are locked in a house where they breathe in a deadly nerve gas. The doors will open in three hours, but they only have two hours to find a way out before succumbing to the lethal inhalant. Police officers, led by a dirty cop Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg), find Jigsaw while his latest game is underway, but all they can do is helplessly watch the video feeds tracking the victims. The stakes are raised for Eric when he observes that his son is one of the people stuck in the house.
SAW II is more of the same: more characters to kill, more ingenious deathtraps to catch them in, and definitely more blood. The original film’s problems carry over to the sequel. Tension is broken repeatedly when cutting to scenes outside the claustrophobic house of horrors. The visual aesthetic is limited to the color of necrotizing flesh. Except for Bell’s tranquil embodiment of Jigsaw, the performances are merely variations on rampant hysteria.
The concept holds the potential for a terrifying film, but SAW II is more interested in splatter than scares. SAW II identifies with the killer rather than the anonymous character types. In choosing this point of view, the film has the ability to disgust but not to frighten. It’s an unpleasant film with grotesque imagery, but Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” video is more unsettling than this mostly predictable bloodbath.