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Saw II
2005 - R - 93 Mins.
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Written By: Darren Lynn Bousman & Leigh Whannel
Starring: Donnie Wahlberg, Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith
Review by: Ben Samara
Official Site: www.saw2.com
   
When the original ‘Saw’ debuted a year ago, it helped rejuvenate the horror genre. Sure the film – which grossed $18 million in its first weekend – had its flaws. The acting was beyond terrible and the editing in some scenes left many viewers dizzy. But most fans of the genre were able to look past those faults and find a solid thriller underneath. After all, who goes to a horror movie looking for Oscar-caliber acting anyway?

It wasn’t a surprise when a sequel was commissioned shortly after the initial success of ‘Saw.’ For successful horror flicks it’s almost required. What is a surprise, however, is the swiftness that this particular follow-up was put into production. Seeking to capitalize quickly on the accomplishment of the first film, ‘Saw’s’ producers rushed to get the sequel onto the screen and they have managed to release exactly one year after the first. The result is actually a solid sequel that – although not as clever as the first ‘Saw’ – should please fans of the budding franchise.

‘Saw II’ follows two different storylines. First, we meet detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg). He is hot on the trail of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), a cancer-stricken serial killer who seeks to teach his victims to appreciate life by showing them the face of death. Jigsaw puts his prey in the middle of complex puzzles, forcing them to play his game and make intense decisions in order to save their own lives.

While Eric deals with Jigsaw, a group of eight strangers find themselves locked in a mysterious house with no way out. They learn that they are breathing a deadly nerve agent and must find the antidotes scattered throughout the house. As a courtesy to his contestants, Jigsaw has set the front door of the house to unlock in three hours. The sick and deadly twist? The eight occupants will be dead in two, unless they find the antidotes.

First and foremost, ‘Saw II’ is strictly for fans of the original movie. If you didn’t like that one, you’re not going to like this one either. Likewise, if you haven’t seen the first ‘Saw,’ you’re not going to know what the hell is going on.

After a shaky opening which utilizes the same irritating chop and jump cuts from the original, ‘Saw II’ kicks into gear with what turns out to be a pretty clever screenplay for a horror sequel. ‘Saw’ fans will be pleased with the expansion of the Jigsaw character. Here, his psyche is explored in depth and Tobin Bell does an excellent job during his interplay with Wahlberg.

In fact, Bell’s performance raises the level of acting in ‘Saw II’ well past its predecessor – although that isn’t saying much. Everyone else phones in a one dimensional performance as expected, although they are all adequate at what they do. Wahlberg is good at being angry and throwing things, while Shawnee Smith – in an extended role from the first movie – does her best to anchor the in-house strangers. Then there’s Beverly Mitchell of ‘7th Heaven’ fame, who has no more than three lines in this one. She spends most of her time on the ground crying.

The actors can’t be held accountable for their underdeveloped characters, though. In ‘Saw II,’ eight individuals are vying for screen time – not exactly favorable conditions for compelling character exposition. Instead of being confined to a single room to duke it out, they are able to roam freely around the house. This takes away that key element that made the original film so great. What made ‘Saw’ special was the claustrophobic atmosphere revolving around two scared men. The filmmakers lost that aspect here.

Another thing that made the original ‘Saw’ unforgettable was the chilling twist ending. Of course we have one here as well. In fact, there are several, including a disappointing twist that any astute moviegoer can see coming from a mile away.

For some reason, though, you’re happy when the twists come. They work if you want them to work. And despite the shortcomings, this is actually a marginally enjoyable movie. With the first two ‘Saw’ films, the creators – lead writer Leigh Whannell in particular – have managed quite a feat. They have made two movies with innumerable imperfections and shortcomings, yet you can’t help but love this stuff. It’s good, dirty, escapist fun. And who doesn’t need a little of that every now and then? Judging from the $60 million ‘Saw II’ made in its first 10 days, this franchise is set to be around for a long time. I can’t complain about that.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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