The events in a story need a reason to be happening. The characters need to have had a reason to find themselves in whatever situation they’re faced with, even if that reason appears to be “wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time” there has to be a reason for them to deal with the situation the way they do. When not enough thought is given to the motivations for the behaviours of characters in films, those films can feel off, like something important is missing but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what. In these cases motivation has most likely been replaced by mere excuses. Some might say that in movies focused on entertainment as opposed to trying to have any depth the loss of character development isn’t that important really. To those who say that I wish to respond with a simple “shut up!” Not giving a toss about people in films is what’s landed us in the awful mess that last night’s movie is an example of.
In an attempt to add some more depth to the idea behind the Saw series of movies the second sordid outing Saw II (2005), properly introduces the villain of the piece John Kramer, the man behind the murderous little clown from his videos, and who became associated with the name Jigsaw. The movie opens with a police informant (as in rat or grass – someone who runs and tells tales to the old bill) called Michael into who’s eye Kramer has semi-surgically inserted a key, a key that unlocks a nasty spring loaded mask Michael’s wearing (much like a portable iron maiden) that’s on a timer and is about to snap shut and drive a series of spikes into his skull. All the hapless victim has to do in order to save his life is gouge out his right eye and retrieve the key, the “logic” behind this being that he has to sacrifice something he’s quite attached to in order to prove he’s worthy of life.
After this round of old bollocks sets the moral compass for the film, Saw II introduces a teenage boy called Daniel Matthews and his policeman father Eric Matthews (played by Donnie Wahlberg). Things aren’t great between father and son as Daniel is going through a rebellious phase and Eric is going through a “I got caught beating up suspects, framing people, and generally perverting the course of justice” phase.
Det. Matthews is called in to work the case of the man in the iron mask and when visiting the crime scene he is shown a message written on the ceiling addressed to him. The cops figure this to be the work of Jigsaw and set about locating him, which they do. They discover Jigsaw to be a sick bloke in mind and in body too as he’s suffering from terminal cancer. As he goes about explaining his nonsense little philosophy and therefore his justifications for torturing people to death, John Law uncovers a set of monitors displaying a series of camera feeds from an unknown house where several people have been locked up, including young Daniel.
The house where everyone is trapped is slowly filling with poisonous gas and those inside have a couple of hours to either escape or figure out the clues that will provide an antidote to the gas. Of course, the house is rigged with an assortment of traps and evil puzzles that’re designed to reduce the number of possible survivors as time passes while teaching some sort of lessons based on Jigsaw’s twisted world view.
Considering the success of the first Saw film it was understandable that there’d be more. What is constantly surprising is how much audiences like this stuff and therefore how much of a runaway success the franchise was.
Looking at Saw II from a purely technical standpoint there are a couple of decent aspects to the film. Wahlberg made more out of the script then was asked of him or was even necessary. The dude playing the cops son is OK, and the ex-junkie who’d been through Jigsaw’s games before is functional enough. The rest are pure torture-fodder but in that they may have been playing their roles perfectly as there’s none of them you’d feel sorry for as they go through the process of getting themselves killed. The only real turn up for the books , aside from Wahlberg, was Dina Meyer as the other cop (you may remember her from such films as The Devil’s Advocate and Starship Troopers) as she did a decent turn and would have made an excellent cop on some TV show or other.
Sadly, Tobin Bell as Jigsaw was just boring, though this was the fault of the character not the actor. Jigsaw makes for a very poor baddie really, his motivations are juvenile in the extreme (it would be great to see an episode of Criminal Minds where they profiled this lad) and his background beyond the cancer diagnosis is a mystery; where did he get the skills and more importantly the money to be able to do this stuff? And is this all really another case of someone not having a decent support network to help keep them grounded, in other words, where’s Mrs. Jigsaw? Are there little Jigsaws out there somewhere, really embarrassed by who and what their Dad is? Maybe Jigsaw wouldn’t be so pissed off at the world if he just got laid once in a while!
There isn’t a whole lot to say in terms of the direction or production of Saw II as it’s a classic example of sequel film-making; just, here’s the script, point, shoot, edit, done. Nothing special and nothing more than the material deserved or the audience expected. The big trick with a film like this is to avoid the directors instinct to set things up in advance in order to get a pay-off later in the movie, and for the most part the director Darren Lynn Bousman, achieved this though there are a couple of hints earlier on as to what kind of nasty fate was waiting for some of the victims.
The production quality of Saw II is mediocre. The effects aren’t that great, blood and so on, nothing to get excited about, and surprisingly little gore, except one or two scenes that aren’t all THAT bad.The sets are all the same drab depressing shade of grey/green and everything looks dirty and perhaps splattered with bodily fluids, which sums up the feel of the entire film. Saw II is another drab, torturous outing with little to redeem it which is shocking as so much time goes into trying to convince the audience that redemption was the moral of the story.