Sequels tend to go one of three ways: 1.) They take the formula people liked in the first film and expand upon it in new and interesting ways, spurring further interest; 2.) They double down on the formula and make what’s virtually an exact replicate of the prior film to middling results; and 3.) They learn the wrong lessons from why the first film was successful and go bigger and bolder with them.
The first sequel in the Saw franchise, Saw II, released in 2005, did the third option. As I mentioned in my review of the first film, I had to offer a bit of a mea culpa because the first film is decidedly not torture porn, contrary to my memory. Instead, it’s more of a mystery-thriller akin to Seven. There was only one real scene of torture. Otherwise, it was the mystery-thriller, whodunit aspect of the film driving the narrative.
But with the sequel, they double down on the torture porn aspect and the “people stuck in a situation” premise of the first, which also happens to work in service of the former. That is, the brilliant conceit of the first film was that you had two guys locked in a bathroom trying to figure out what was going on, which also created a claustrophobic feel. Here, half a dozen people are locked in a house, so that’s the “bigger and bolder” aspect. Not only do you increase the conceit and eliminate the claustrophobia, but you increase the potential torture porn count, which is exactly what they did.
While the film, like the first, is written by Leigh Whannell, we have a new director, Darren Lynn Bousman, replacing James Wan. In fact, Bousman would go on to direct three more sequels in the franchise. Even though Wan is out, the film still fills like an imitation of Wan’s style: frenetic, almost seizure-inducing shots and cuts with an off-putting tinted green hue to the film. There are parts of the film that are almost unwatchable because of how frenetic it is.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of great things to say about the sequel. So along with my previous criticisms, another one of the disappointing aspects of it is that Saw II also leans into a negative horror trope with sequels: Overexplaining the bad guy. In this case, we have the story of Detective Eric Matthews (played by Donnie Wahlberg) trying to stop the serial killer Jigsaw, but of course, Jigsaw is a step ahead of him and has Matthews’ son, Daniel (played by Erik Knudsen), trapped in the house with the others. If Matthews doesn’t sit and talk to Jigsaw for two hours, then Daniel will die. That’s the game.
Therein lies the problem. Unlike the prior film, we’re seeing Jigsaw as John Krammer (played again by Tobin Bell), full-on instead of being shrouded in costume and shadows. We’re also hearing more about his background with cancer and such. I don’t want any of that. The less I see and know about a killer, the better.
Since I’m going through Bones, it was fun to see how small and weird the universe was that Glenn Plummer (playing Jonas) popped up as one of the victims in the house.
I will say, the one positive thing about this film is that the twist is strong again. It turns out that Daniel was in the room with Jigsaw and Matthews the entire time (locked away in a safe with a breathing apparatus) and the security cameras they were watching of the victims in the house, including Daniel, was earlier footage. Pretty brilliant. But, unlike the first film, it’s not enough to make up for the other deficits of the film I’ve mentioned. In addition, it bugged me that they used the classic Saw theme, which last time denoted the coming twist and realization, with a scene that had nothing to do with the twist.
They also doubled down on twists. Not only was there the Daniel twist, but we got the twist that Amanda (played again by Shawnee Smith), who was the lone survivor of one of Jigsaw’s attacks in the first film and was again seemingly victimized by being in the house for this film, was actually working with Jigsaw and will be taking over for him after Jigsaw presumably dies of cancer. That part of the double twist was a “womp womp” to me. Jigsaw is the character. Nobody wants to see Jigsaw pass the torch to someone else.
I know I saw this sequel in theaters, but I can’t remember if I was also disappointed then or not. But I am now. Between the actual film-making and the script, there’s not much to like here. Even the kills, as far as that goes, aren’t that interesting or filled with tension (besides maybe the shock factor of Amanda falling into a pit of needles, eek).
Overall, I would recommend this film in the interest of completeness if, like me, you’re making your way through the franchise, but not for any other reason.