Saw II

Saw II ★★★★

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"He wants us to survive."

The venus fly trap cold open is everything. Darren Lynn Bousman stays faithful to the world James Wan and Leigh Whannell created with the first film and expands on it wonderfully. The grimy, sickly-green aesthetic is back with a vengeance, and the ensemble cast work wonderfully together (even though their characters refuse to cooperate). I'd go as far as to say that the balance between police work and the traps is perfected in this entry, with the scenes at Jigsaw's lair being just as compelling as the ones in the house. While the first film certainly offered some exciting traps, Saw II starts to realize just how powerful they can be. We get more insight into how Jigsaw operates and how he runs this show -- everything can be won, but not without a high cost.

Twists and turns and shocking reveals are at the heart of the Saw franchise, and this entry may contain some of my favorites. It really is the most intricate, containing multiple puzzles and mysteries all solved in the final moments. It's richly satisfying to see these rapid-cut sequences that remind us of all the foreshadowing and the plants to later be called back on. Shocking, yes, but also inevitable. How could it have been anything but this? It all becomes so obvious at the end, but I never would've guessed it. Even on re-watch though, these revelations hold up. The best twists for me are the darkest ones, so to see the groundwork for these be laid, knowing how it will all end up, is so damn fun.

While Eric Matthews foolishly inserts himself into the center of this narrative, it's Amanda Young who creeps around it. After proving herself to Jigsaw once, she must do it once again. It’s so disturbing to watch her wake up in the room with the others, feeling around her head for the phantom trap that haunts her. She's terrified... but only for a moment. She's won this before, and she damn well is gonna do it again. Amanda's ability to endure amazes me, largely because of the contradictions it creates. She can overcome anything, yet she cannot free herself from the pits she falls in to. She lives in this horrible limbo between strength and weakness and that disconnect is what makes her so fascinating to watch. Her arc throughout this film is incredible, and the final twist never fails to amaze me. I still have vivid memory of seeing this for the first time at 15 and losing my mind at her ending monologue. Jigsaw orchestrates it all, but Amanda is the one playing the game.

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