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John’s Horror Corner: Saw II (2005), more brutal, more death traps, more ominous tapes, more Jigsaw!

September 18, 2017

MY CALL:  Less tactful and more brutal, this was a very different film than part I.  Following very much the trajectory between Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), we shift from a film driven by atmosphere and characters to one of world elaboration and gorier effects.  But honestly, it’s a rather satisfying shift.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Saw:  Well, after Saw (2004) there were six sequels and now part VIII, Jigsaw (2017). Cube (1997) and Se7en (1995) share some of the death trap and methodical villain themes, respectively.  Subsequent torture porn for gory thrill-seekers would include Hostel I-II (2005, 2007; but not part III), Martyrs (2008; not the remake), The Human Centipede films (2009, 2011, 2015), and the I Spit on Your Grave series (1978 original, 2010-2015).  For more fun and innovative kills I’d also recommend the Final Destination films (2000-2011; but skip part 4).

Show me a horror sensation and I’ll show you a swiftly released sequel, and that’s exactly what happened with the Saws (2004) success—not that I’m complaining!  Just one year after the original’s release, James Wan (The Conjuring 1-2, Insidious 1-2) stepped back to the role of executive producer and writer Leigh Whannell (Insidious 1-4, Saw I-III, Cooties) joined director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw III-IV, The Devil’s Carnival, Mother’s Day) for parts II and III.

At the end of Saw (2004), we watched in shock as Jigsaw (Tobin Bell; Boogeyman 2-3, Saw I-VII) stood up and strolled away after playing the unobtrusively limp centerpiece to his last death trap, leaving poor Adam (Leigh Whannell) to die in a filth-smeared bathroom.  But now with his mystique largely revealed, what will this sequel have to offer from our yet more terminally ill John Kramer (Jigsaw)?

Whereas part I was thoughtful and character-driven, this sequel replaces much of its class with crass.  More akin to a teen slasher, our victims awaken in a deadly funhouse of horrors that is more chaotically Cube (1997) than tactfully Se7en (1995). The rules are less clear, the tape player is less eerie, and our villain’s purpose is somewhat obscured. I’m not saying I don’t like it. I’m simply saying that the very elements that drew many fans to part I (its subtlety) has been rather sidelined.  However, that said, we do develop Kramer’s motive and back story.  And while many fans adored the characters of part I, others reveled more in its brutal nature.  And it’s that very brutality that gets turned up quite a bit in this sequel.

As detectives Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg; Dead Silence, Saw III-IV) and Kerry (Dina Meyer; Bats, Saw II-IV, Piranha 3D) race against time to locate Kramer’s murder house, his victims begin to turn on one another.  The aspect of choice deciding his victims’ fate is less of a driving factor, now taking a back seat to their own murderous desperation.  Adding intrigue is that the only survivor (Shawnee Smith; The Blob, Saw I-III/VI, The Grudge 3) from part I has returned to play another deadly game.

Perhaps more mean-spirited, this sequel is more gruesomely cringe-worthy than its predecessor.  There’s much suicidal and self-mutilation imagery, wrist and throat cutting, impalement and skinning.  If anyone has an issue with needles, the “syringe scene” will make you reel.  No one even dies, yet it’s one of the most uncomfortable things one can watch.  Yikes!

Overall, this was a very different film than part I.  Following very much the trajectory between Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), we shift from a film driven by atmosphere and characters to one of world elaboration and gorier effects.  I miss James Wan’s more thoughtful influence, but honestly it remains a rather satisfying shift in style.

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