Saw 2 review, Saw 2 DVD review

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Buy your copy from Saw 2 (2005) starstarstarhalf starno star Starring: Donnie Wahlberg, Dina Meyer, Tobin Bell, Lyriq Bent, Tim Burd
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Rating: R
Category: Horror/Suspense

ALSO! Check out where it ranked in our 2005 Year in Review.

In their attempt to one-up the snuff film sadomasochism that propelled “Saw” to take in a staggering $55 million at the box office last year, the makers of “Saw II” did everything that you would expect from a sequel: they raised the squirm factor tenfold, but in exchange sacrificed character development. What you get is a movie that is even more disturbing than the original, if that’s at all possible. It even has a tidy, plausible ending that I wouldn’t think of giving away. The only catch is that you don’t particularly care what happens to any of these people.

The movie begins, “Scream” style, with one unlucky bastard waking up in a cell and forced to play a “game” with John, the Jigsaw killer (Tobin Bell). I ruin nothing by telling you he fails, and suffers a quick, but gruesome, death. As the police investigate Unlucky Bastard’s death, they bring in Detective Eric Mason (Donnie Wahlberg), who’s now doing desk work by choice, to provide some insight on the case, which is being led by his former partner Kerry (Dina Meyer). Mason discovers a link to a possible hideout, so the cops raid the place, and sure enough, they find Jigsaw, expecting their arrival. John has a surprise for them, though: he has eight people locked away in a booby trapped house, inhaling nerve gas that will kill them in two hours. One of those eight people is Daniel, Mason’s troublemaking son. In order to give up their location, Mason needs to play a game with Jigsaw, while the clock not so subtly ticks in the background.

One of the ways that “Saw” ratcheted up the tension was in the back-and-forth between Adam (Leigh Whannell, who co-wrote both “Saw” movies) and Lawrence (Cary Elwes). While they both knew that the only way out of their predicament was to work together, Jigsaw made it clear that they were also in direct competition with each other. As a storytelling device, this served two purposes: it developed the characters, and it raised the stakes without raising the gore factor. The problem with “Saw II” is that the only way the plot stays afloat is to have none of these eight people talk to each other, something that the hostages happily, maddeningly oblige. This every-man-for-himself approach produces some pretty bad acting along the way, highlighted by macho dumbass Xavier (Franky G), who actually subjects another hostage to play the game that Jigsaw has assigned him. (Can’t say we blame him; it’s the worst of the bunch, by a mile.) This approach also produces a higher body count, as required by law of any horror sequel. It does not produce, however, the same kind of suspense that made “Saw” such a surprise hit.

And yet, as the events unfold, you can forgive the execution of the story, because they have once again come up with one killer ending, pardon the pun. At the risk of giving too much away, I will simply say that it is no left field cheat. There may be a laundry list of dropped threads and missed opportunities along the way, but damned if they didn’t nail the ending, again.

“Saw II” is as good as anyone could have expected from a 25-day shoot and a shoestring budget (more expensive than “Saw,” but clearly still cheap). While the script wasn’t honed as sharply as its predecessor, the movie is rather adept in at least distracting the viewer from its flaws until long after the credits roll. As sequels go, it’s better than most. But there is surely an unrated director’s cut somewhere in our future that will leave this in the dust. At least, there better be.

DVD Review:
Pretty, uh, bare bones stuff. There’s an surprisingly upbeat audio commentary with director Darren Lynn Bousman and actors Donnie Wahlberg and Beverley Mitchell (she plays Laura, the most disposable victim in the house), as well as some bits on the movie’s traps and props. This looks like another “Sin City”-type release, where the inevitable deluxe edition, which has all of the really good stuff, is only a few months away.

~David Medsker

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