Detective Eric Mason (Donnie Wahlberg, channeling his tough guy brother Mark) is at the end of his wits. With his son constantly in trouble, and the stresses of his job leading him to questionable police practices, Mason is put to the test when his team is baited by the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell). Arranging a new game where eight strangers (including Glenn Plummer, Beverley Mitchell, Shawnee Smith, and Franky G) are being slowly gassed in a locked house, and face elaborate traps everywhere, the dying Jigsaw offers Mason a chance to save them, as long as he has the patience to sit down and talk about the madman's philosophy on cherishing life. With time running out, the strangers use drastic measures to save their own lives, while Mason is driven to extremes, forced to watch them die one by one.
I'm not exactly sure how 2004's "Saw" captured the imagination of so many individuals, except that it was a well-timed Halloween release, and played well to an undemanding audience looking for a little bit of the old red. Slapped together out of thin air in just under a year, "Saw II" (IMDb listing) is basically the same experience, this time without the comedy stylings of actor Cary Elwes.
Losing Elwes and his hideously misguided performance is the first and last good idea that "Saw II" has. This quickie sequel was thrown together to make a quick buck, not to further the myth of the Jigsaw. In fact, with the ludicrous revelation of the man behind the Jigsaw at the end of "Saw," the sequel has to come up with several ways to refresh itself since the identity of the killer is known right from the start. Screenwriters Darren Lynn Bousman (who also makes his directorial debut with the film) and Leigh Whannell (who scripted the original) have chosen to multiply the danger and the chaos by pitting eight characters against each other instead of two, seemingly patting themselves on the back for this bold maneuver. Instead, the change only gives more actors ample opportunity to overact with lousy dialog and direction, and for the film to have even less interest in character development than before. These are just nameless bodies for the slaughter, making absurd (even by genre standards) and overtly theatrical decisions just so the screenwriters can dream up some more Rube Goldbergian devices to satisfy the gorehounds.
Of course, I'm one of those gorehounds, yet there are many elements that define this franchise that I have trouble swallowing; the most important of which is Bousman's amateur direction, which uses a lot of silly handheld camera shots to conjure up faux tension. Bousman also tries to follow in "Saw" director James Wan's shoes by spicing up some of the more gruesome moments with whiplash editing and a camera that feels like it was tied to a tetherball pole and swung around. There's no confidence to Bousman's direction, and his touch lends the film a distinctly discounted Sci-Fi Channel look and feel. "Saw II" isn't exactly a luxurious production (the action takes place on two measly sets), but Bousman doesn't have the imagination to boost the material past its cash-in origins. "Saw II" was cheap to make, and it looks even cheaper.
Whannell and Bousman do feel the need to outdo "Saw" by mounting even bigger twists along the way. I guess a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is mandatory for the "Saw" films, but this sequel takes advantage of the audiences' willingness to swallow nonsense as it stages increasingly ludicrous murders and revelations. Outside of one good relatable shock (a character falls into a pit of hypodermic needles), the rest of the film overextends itself trying to scare the audience, or, at the very least, keep them from guessing the ending. I'm not sure how anybody could even explain the bizarre ending of "Saw II," much less predict it, but the blood flows and the actors are terrible, so if it ain't broke, why fix it?
In the long run, "Saw II" is a better film than the original, but that's like saying being kicked in the groin is better than being punched in the face.
Filmfodder Grade: D-