Saw II

Saw II ★★★★

When Sundance breakout hit Saw became a pop culture phenomenon, an unexpected franchise was born. Rather than revealing the fate of Dr. Gordon from the first film, Saw II brings in a new cast of victims and Donnie Wahlberg in a powerful turn as Detective Eric Matthews. Returning are everyone's favorite cancer patient John "Jigsaw" Kramer (Tobin Bell) and Shawnee Smith as previous Jigsaw survivor Amanda, who finds herself as one of eight people stuck in a new game set in a house filled with nerve gas and deadly traps.

Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, Saw II is relatively light on traps compared to later entries, focusing instead on telling a compelling story consisting of shocking yet plausible twists that expand and further contextualize the Jigsaw mythology. The traps that are present are quite memorable, with Amanda's trip into the hypodermic needle pit surely ranking as one of the series' most unsettling moments. The opening trap is not one that will please those sensitive to eye mutilation. In taking over directorial duties from James Wan, Darren Lynn Bousman creates a fantastic sense of atmosphere, making the house feel claustrophobic, yet also overwhelmingly large when necessary.

The notion that the Saw franchise is vapid torture porn is both ignorant and elitist. Aside from the tight, thrilling narrative, Saw II offers meaningful commentary on toxic masculinity, parental estrangement and police corruption, none of which is merely shoehorned into the plot. The third act is a wild descent into the Hell of the first film, building to a reveal that will leave the viewer stunned and gasping for air almost as much as the victims of the nerve gas house. By evolving naturally instead of consciously trying to top its predecessor, Saw II is very nearly as excellent. Even the Mudvayne song over the end credits feels badass in context.

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