Tuesday, October 21, 2014

SAW Retrospective: Saw II (2005)

Saw II
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Donnie Wahlberg, Dina Meyer, Erik Knudsen, Franky G, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Beverly Mitchell, Lyriq Bent
Rated: R

He's in a safe place...
      ~John Kramer Aka Jigsaw

Lionsgate did not mess around with capitalizing off their hit film Saw.  One year later, making it a tradition, Saw II was released.  Due to the unforeseen hit that Saw was, and James Wan and Leigh Whannel being busy with other things (A ventrilo-quest of sorts), they needed a story.  Music video Darren Lynn Bousman was brought on board to direct with a script on hand called The Desperate.  He had been shopping it around but getting constant rejections due to it being "too much like Saw".  Which is funny, because you usually want to get that knock off out right away.  Anyhow, Leigh Whannel freed up and was able to take Bousman's script and craft it into becoming a part of the Saw universe.
Jigsaw's second outing got 4 times the budget of the original as well.  Both were shot in just one building too.  And with that easily comes better production values that show up just moments into the film.  This still has a very low budget, indie look.  Many other factors topple the original as well.  Its a much better directed and acted film than the first movie.  The cast might not boast as many high profile names (A lot of television actors), but they're much better with the material and better written as well.  The dialogue in this film isn't brilliance or anything, but it gets rid of all that clunky, odd stuff that would come out of characters' mouths in the original to force plot points/clues/revelations or to just sound like a "badass".  It also doesn't take shortcuts to getting around things in the editing room as well.  
Saw II would also see a couple more series' trends brewing.  While Tobin Bell of course returns, two actors from the previous film get bumped up to much meatier roles.  Dina Meyer, who had a few scenes with Danny Glover and Ken Leung in the first film is now much more of a role and almost as big a part of this movie as Donnie Wahlberg is (This movie is clever and does a nice job of making you believe Eric Mathews is a much bigger part of the movie than he is).  Also, Shawnee Smith who had one (memorable) scene in the last movie is now of the full blown main cast in the film with promise to return in the next installment.  The Saw series keeps it in the family with these productions and you'll see this occurrence happen every time.  Its really pretty fun to see.  For instance, we're introduced to Sergeant Daniel Rigg in this film, and he'll be our lead when we get to Saw IV.
Another trend here is the use of flashbacks.  Yes, there were flashbacks in the previous film, but that's the entire basis of that story as two guys try and figure out what happened to them (And yeah, I know a half of what's going on in this movie already happened, but that's not supposed to be known).  In Saw II we learn much more about how Jigsaw came to be and why he's doing these "evil" deeds.  I must point out this movie has a great line in which Jigsaw claims to have never killed anyone and Mathews calls him out for that mentality being a bunch of bullshit pretty much.  And I don't think the series' would harp on that ideal again.  Jigsaw is revealed to have attempted suicide in a terrible car accident after discovering cancer and been "born again" to appreciate life so he basically wants everyone to go through what he's done to appreciate life.  The fun thing they do in future installments will be to keep expanding on these flashbacks and the back story.
Speaking of 'ol Jigsaw, this movie is the first time we really get to hang with him.  We heard his voice and challenges plenty, but we didn't really know him at all.  There's not much action from the man due to his ill condition and the cancer apparently taking over.  But, he comes across as a "clever" villain, who likes puns, that is devious and evil from just sitting across the table and having a conversation with you.  And I must say I love the last shot of the movie with him sitting and laughing with the most sinister look on his face as he sits bludgeoned.  Its also pretty awesome that Tobin Bell really appreciated and took his role and series to heart.  He shared a fondness for it akin to that of Robert England did for Freddy Krueger.
Saw II began upping the violence from the original, which is traditional for a horror sequel to do.  Although, I still think this is pretty tame and not much of the "torture porn" label that this series created.  What a dumb tag, btw.  People claimed they wanted to see a little more of the traps in action rather than just the result and they get it right away at the open.  However, I see this movie and I still think they could have gone gorier.  I'm not clamoring for it, I'm just saying those people throwing labels at films they've never seen but probably champion The Walking Dead weekly, should even see this film as pretty tame.  All they have done is upped the ante which is how you do quick sequels.  Bigger trap (full house instead of a room), more cast, more deaths.  
Saw II had a lot of positive buzz from audiences/fans following release.  Many cited it as a better film than the original.  While I do think its a better made movie, I honestly enjoy the first one a bit more than this one.  For starters, part of the fun for me in the first one was all the puzzles and riddles and such that I at least felt a piece of me was interacting with the movie a bit trying to solve.  I also like trying to see how they would avoid the traps or get out of them.  Here in this film, NOBODY has the patience to do any of that.  And most of this movie is ruined by the character of Xavier, who not only has a terrible actor playing him, but the character sucks too.  Every time people play a tape, or see a clue and you're intrigued by what's going to happen it goes to that dumbass who is pretty much like "Fuck this shit" and ignores everything and someone is harmed or killed  And this starts from the get go.  I could see patience wearing as time goes on, but there's just no fun in it.  Its instant violence and death with almost no tact.  He does a good job at making me hate him, but he also breaks the 4th wall in getting me to not like the movie while his character is involved as well.  At least Amanda is interesting an her involvement keeps me going with the trap house, but Xavier damn near spoils the entire film for me.
Saw II is a solid follow up to the original that I think is stronger on its first view than subsequent ones.  Its got a pretty big doozy of a twist and the end and some fun twists and turns leading up to the end as well.  I really dig the back and forth between Wahlberg and Bell as well.  I don't mind these traps ending in a gruesome death, but I'd just like to see them "try" to figure it out rather than just rage into all of it.  It takes a lot of the fun out of what made the series and feels like its pleasing OCD gore hounds who can't deal with suspense.  Still, its a really solid film and keeps holding the torch for the series' up decent enough.  And "Oh yes...there will be blood".

NEXT TIME:  Closing up a trilogy, yet leaving room for more

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