November 3, 2005
by Amy Diaz
Blood flows like spiked punch at an office Halloween party in the
goretacular sequel Saw II.
And, much like an office Halloween party, Saw II has the unsettling
feeling of work masquerading as fun. Sure, the memo said “Have a spooky
good time!” but the rumor around the office is that the HR guy will be
there to explain the cuts in your health benefits.
II starts out with one of its self-mutilation-based eeeews — a young man
can get the key to unlock the timer-controlled bear-trap-thing on his
head only if he cuts out his own eye. He doesn’t, naturally, so we get
to start with a nice bloody squish.
Investigating the scene of this crime, Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie
Wahlberg) gets drawn into the game set up by a serial killer Jigsaw. As
with the first victim, all of Jigsaw’s “contestants” die in much the
same way, having as the only alternative to death some horribly gory act
they must commit on themselves or someone else. Matthews has apparently
tracked Jigsaw for some time and finally captures the killer early in
this movie but not before Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), at death’s door from
cancer, can set in motion a “game” involving eight new contestants, one
of whom is Matthews’ son. As the police and Jigsaw watch on video
cameras, these contestants bumble through an old house trying to find
the antidote to the nerve gas which is slowly killing them. Along the
way, vials of the antidote come at the cost of assorted horrors (being
burned alive, jumping into a pit of broken hypodermic needles) and
Matthews must decide how best to break Jigsaw so he can save his son.
saw itself, the one that gave the first movie its title, appears only
briefly here. It’s a metaphorical
sawing-off-of-your-feet-to-escape-your-chains that gives this film its
extremely vague point. No matter, storytelling (whether it’s this
particular movie or the connection of this story to the previous movie)
is not particularly important. Mostly we just want to see a bunch of
characters we’ll never bother to get to know die in horrible, painful,
gory ways. And, honestly, the film’s got that. And Bell makes a truly
creepy villain, untouchable because of the cancer-given death sentence
already on his head. And all the atmospherics — the grunge-covered
house, the blue-gray lighting — work to make the movie at least
unpleasant and occasionally genuinely creepy.
What perhaps keeps Saw II from being a true standout in the horror genre
(from being, for example, scary) is that it is so heavy with its own
creepiness. We see the work, we see the effort that goes into making
every gimmicky kill as gory as possible. Horror movies can be big,
spectacular affairs, they can be funny or they can be campy. But they
are only scary when the creeps come at you from unexpected places and
have enough foundation in reality to make you believe, even for a split
second, that all that stage blood could be real. Saw II is just a
well-staged but still stagey haunted house.