In the chilling horror film Saw II (2005): 7 out of 10:, the twisted and sadistic serial killer known as Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) returns with an even more diabolical game of life and death.
Detective Eric Matthews (played by Donnie Wahlberg) finds himself at the center of Jigsaw’s deadly game when he discovers that his son, Daniel (played by Erik Knudsen), and a group of strangers have been abducted and trapped in a booby-trapped house. With a ticking clock and lives hanging in the balance, Eric must solve a series of intricate puzzles and navigate a labyrinthine maze of traps to save his son and the others.
As the group of captives struggles to survive, tensions rise, trust is tested, and dark secrets are revealed. It becomes clear that each person has a connection to Detective Matthews, and Jigsaw’s motives are more personal than anyone could have imagined.
Meanwhile, Jigsaw himself, suffering from an advanced stage of cancer, engages in a psychological battle of wits with Eric, taunting him with cryptic clues and challenging his beliefs about justice and retribution. As the game reaches its climax, Eric must confront his own demons and make agonizing choices in order to save his son and escape the clutches of Jigsaw’s sadistic traps.
Saw II delves deeper into the twisted mind of Jigsaw, exploring themes of morality, redemption, and the lengths people will go to survive. With its intense atmosphere, shocking plot twists, and gruesome traps, the film takes audiences on a terrifying rollercoaster ride that will leave them questioning their own capacity for survival and the true nature of evil.
The Good: I complain below about the fact that Saw II takes place on two ugly, poorly lit sets for almost its entirety. From a storytelling and filmmaking point of view, however, I am impressed. There is a sense of place in these sets. A claustrophobia. Jigsaw apparently has introduced an invisible gas to slowly kill his victims in the abandoned house (Sarin?). Such a ticking clock mechanism should not work. Its artificiality should cast a pall over the proceedings. But Saw II legitimately pulls it off.
The acting is good as well. We see a lot more of Tobin Bell in this outing and he carries himself with a gravitas that carries much of the film on his shoulders. Donnie Wahlberg could play the burned out corrupt divorced dad cop role in his sleep. He looks like he was born in that polyester suit. And while personal favorite Dina Meyer is somewhat wasted as Wahlberg’s partner, Saw regular Shawnee Smith really comes into her own in this outing.
Where Saw 2 really shines is its denouement. Like a good Agatha Christie film adaptation, everything is spelled out clearly for the audience and things that made little sense all of the sudden become clear. The ending is clever, does not cheat, and fits with the characters.
The Bad: Getting to that fantastic ending can be a bit of a slog. I watched the unrated version of Saw II and I confess I am a bit of a loss what was cut for content. The death scenes are okay but rarely spectacular or shocking. The people in the house are all criminals out for each other mostly, so it is not like one is rooting for them.
Unfortunately, I often don’t find myself rooting for Jigsaw either. His “moral” punishments rarely pass muster. His traps are often unfair to the point of silliness. (The key is surgically implanted behind your eye. I am only going to give you a butter knife, a cryptic clue, and one minute to figure that out. Yeah, good luck.) Like the end of WarGames, the only way to truly win is not to play.
The Ugly: As is its nature, Saw II itself is a fairly ugly film. The entire enterprise takes place on basically two sets. One being a dark warehouse where the cops and Jigsaw hang out and the other an abandoned boarded-up house filled with traps where our victims all are.
There is little natural light, every surface is covered with grime and the characters themselves are ugly (Personality wise I mean). Our “hero” is a corrupt cop in the most petty way with his adulterous partner. The other “hero” is of course, Jigsaw, who is a motivational speaker gone wrong. Very, very wrong.
Our victims in the house are all criminals of various stripes, often more dangerous than Jigsaw himself. There is no one in Saw II to relate to or root for. Everyone is horrible. This is not necessarily a deal breaker in a film. But it is ugly and makes it harder to enjoy the proceedings.
In Conclusion: I recently watched both Saw II and Killing Gunther and recommended both for the exact opposite reasons. Killing Gunther is stupid fun. You can’t help but have a smile on your face watching it. But the key word is stupid. The story is nonsensical, bordering on surrealism and not in a good way. Saw II on the other hand, is wicked smart. But I confess I did not enjoy the actual watching of the film. It is somewhat unpleasant. The lighting is often dark. Everything is dirty and disgusting. The traps were meh. And the characters without the big reveal were somewhat cardboard. But that ending…
I love the story in Saw 2. I just wish I enjoyed the act of watching the film a bit more.