Hippo Manchester
November 3, 2005

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Film: Saw II (R)
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.

Saw 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.

The 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.