Saw II

Saw II ★½

(written in 2005 when I first saw it)

Overbearingly gruesome sequel abandons the puzzle fetishism of the original for sheer mayhem. Here the characters don't figure out each death trap: they merely walk into them and die very, VERY horribly. Now, I'm usually all in favor of a gory show when it comes to horror, but many of the devices in "Saw II" quite frankly cross the line between malevolent fun and "please stop, I don't want to watch this anymore". The sadism at work here will please only the most die-hard of violence junkies. I guess I'm a wimp after all, because I flinched watching a person thrown into a giant pile of syringes then try to crawl around in it as hundreds of needles stab into their body parts from all sides. Nor was I merry watching a woman's arms get trapped in a box where you can enter by pushing up through a glass-shard flap, but when you try to bring your hands back out of it, they close on you. That doesn't seem so bad in print, perhaps, but trust me, it's one thing to see a brief knife slashing as in most other horror films and another to stare at the same thing happening for several minutes on end. It's not so much a matter of HOW violent it is, but of how deeply unpleasant. It just made me want to escape and go watch "Wallace and Gromit" or anything harmless to cleanse myself of such viscerally repugnant imagery.

Doesn't that mean the movie succeeded, though? I don't think so. The intention of these scenes isn't to appall, but to entertain our perverse addiction to on-screen torture. I know, there's a hypocrisy there, given my fondness for horror and indifference to film violence. I don't know quite how to describe "Saw II"'s problem, except to say that it is simply repulsive. Everyone screams, spits blood, beats each other up, and tries to kill another in-between getting killed. On top of a pounding musical score, rapid-fire editing, grimy art direction, and grainy photography. It's a few steps or less up from an amateur film student trying to make a hipster snuff movie.

But okay, fine, it wants to be sick and twisted, so let's say we try to tolerate that. What of the screenplay, the characters, the point? Glad you asked! See, the Jigsaw Killer teaches people lessons about appreciating life, and never technically kills anyone himself in a cunning bit of reverse-blame, and all this other bullshit that would be his defense lawyer's worst nightmare. Yeah, the script tries to sell eye-opening themes about living right, and living full, and re-educating those who fail at these endeavors, a la numerous pathological serial killer morality plays ("Seven" and "Phone Booth" are the first that come to mind). Yet the "Saw" series also has (had) a novel tactic of allowing the sinners of the world a chance to escape their rotten souls by metaphorically figuring out ways to escape from elaborate booby traps. Not that "Saw" part 1 was any good, because, well, it was insufferably full of itself while simultaneously dumb as fuck (i.e. the gigantic twists), not to mention relentlessly annoying. But there was at least a semblance of cunning, of brainpower, to the characters' actions. In this here sequel, however, everyone is so perfectly clueless and hateful that it becomes nothing more than a slasher film taken to extremes. No one ever comes close to figuring out how to diffuse the Jigsaw Killer's devices; they stupidly succumb to them instead, and in ways that people even as unintelligent as these assholes would probably think twice about. This goes double for Donnie Wahlberg, playing a cop who has trapped the killer and tries to find out where the torture session is taking place, but never actually listens to the killer long enough to get anything done. Which makes me wonder, if all the deaths are premeditated ambushes, why does the killer go to such lengths claiming that he wants his victims to win his games and survive with newfound wisdom? If he ever thought Donnie Wahlberg would pay attention and solve the case, why did he lure him into a planned-out scenario at the end? Was it prepared just in case? Similarly, all the other characters who are stuck in the death house seem to conform rather neatly to the killer's assumptions of their behavior. This, like in "Saw 1", is a pretty shameless contrivance, to think that he could have mapped out every possible action sans variance and be correct.

Okay, whatever. It's ridiculous. There's a fairly foreseeable set of uber-twists, lots of bad acting (Shawnee Smith and Donnie Wahlberg inspire the most laughs), and virtually no characters you hope will live. There's one, in fact, who is so purely evil that he tends to distract us from the real villain (this brought to mind "Cube", in which the insane guy became more of a crisis than the Cube itself). It's just unnecessary.

I can see how someone might like this, of course. Problematic as it is, the script TRIES to pile on logical clues, and inventive tortures, and will it horrify viewers? Oh yeah. But it's so ugly, arrogant and nihilistic.

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