Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.
I don’t have a great deal of interest in torture porn as a concept. The original Saw was tagged as a torture porn film, but it really wasn’t. It was a hell of a lot smarter than that, and for all of the nastiness and grue in the film, it had a surprisingly positive and interesting message. When it became a thing, there wasn’t much surprise in it suddenly becoming a franchise, and Saw II went into production probably the moment the original started to make money.
The premise here is essentially the same. A killer named Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) traps people and puts them into life-or-death situations. These people are all failing to live their lives to the fullest in some significant way—they are predators, junkies, or people who prey on society in some way. Their test (or “game” in Jigsaw’s parlance) is to demonstrate that they have the will to live, often by doing something painful and bloody to themselves or someone else to free themselves from a deathtrap. Saw II gives us a reminder of this, putting an informant (Noam Jenkins) in a situation where he more or less has to remove one of his eyes to save his life. He can’t and the trap is sprung.
This time, we’re not going to be stuck in a dirty bathroom. We’ve got eight people trapped in a house. They’re told that the house has been flooded with a nerve agent that will kill them in two hours if they don’t figure out how to get out, and that the doors will open in three hours. Hidden throughout the house are some of Jigsaw’s “games,” with antidotes offered as prizes for beating them.
At the same time, we get the story of Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) who is estranged from his son Daniel (Eric Knudsen). Using a clue on the body of the informant, Matthews and a SWAT team head to the factory where the device on the informant was manufactured. It is there that they find Jigsaw, real name John. But before they can take him in, Jigsaw reveals the current game—the eight people in the booby-trapped house. It turns out that seven of them are people that Eric Matthews put away by planting evidence on them. The eighth, of course, is his son Daniel. The only odd person out in the group of eight is Amanda (Shawnee Smith), who has already survived Jigsaw’s games (in the first film).
Saw II switches back and forth between the interplay between Jigsaw and Eric and what is going on in the trapped house, all of which is available to Eric and the cops on television monitors planted in the unknown house location. So, while the reluctant game players deal with the nerve agent they have been poisoned with, some brutal and bloody traps, and each other, Eric tries to get any information he can out of Jigsaw to rescue his son.
There’s a lot to like with the Saw concept, but as is often the case, the sequel isn’t anywhere near the first movie. It muddies things up quite a bit with all of the additional people involved in the games. One of the things that made Saw so interesting was that so much of it was the interplay of the two trapped characters who were pitted against each other but had to manage to cooperate on some level to have any hope of surviving. That’s the case here, and as might be expected, in our prisoners, we’re going to have both saints and sinners. The main antagonist is Xavier (Franky G), who immediately takes the position of trying to bull his way out of the situation and soon begins attacking the other prisoners. The other prisoners are more or less sympathetic at times, with Jonas (Glenn Plummer) being perhaps the most level-headed. Of course, the prisoners start being whittled down.
The additional characters do muddle up the story, though. In an attempt to be bigger and nastier (and it is both) compared to the original film, a lot of the mental and emotional issues that mark the first film are foregone for blood and terrible deaths. The morality is still here, of course, but the way in which that morality comes out gets lost in the desire for gruesome spectacle.
It’s not as good. The original Saw was inventive and smarter than it had any right to be. In trying to capitalize off that, Saw II could have done quite a bit more intelligently and a lot more psychologically than simply going for the gross out moments. I’m honestly a little disappointed, because the scenes with Jigsaw and the detective really are interesting and are the best part of the film. The horror parts that we have allegedly signed up for are disappointing because they’re just nasty and not that clever.
Why to watch Saw II: The message is still a good one.
Why not to watch: This is far more torture porn than the first Saw.