"We're both so messed up. I don't know which one of us is worse."
- Duane Bradley, Basket Case

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Saw II - 2005, Back When the Franchise Still Made Sense

It's my goal for Inside the Wicker Basket to offer you readers as much new and original content as I possibly can. While I attempt to get back into the routine of writing reviews again, unfortunately with my busy schedule I've only been averaging about one new post per week.

In the meantime, I'd like to every once in a while re-post an old article or review - "time capsules" if you will - that I wrote for my college newspaper, The Good 5 Cent Cigar. Chances are you only read my stuff if you went to URI between 2003 and 2007 (or if you're my mom, who enjoyed collecting my issues), so I figured it would be nice to get some of them out there in the public eye again.

For the most part, this review of Saw II from November 2005 is left as is - although I did edit a word or two here and there to make it flow a bit better. I do find it fun to go back and see how my writing style has changed (perhaps not necessarily for the better!), plus it helps me add material to what I hope will be a long-running blog.

Oh yeah, and lastly, it was written back before you needed flowcharts and bar graphs explaining the convoluted mess that has now become the Saw franchise (with the sixth entry due out next month, and Saw VII currently entering pre-production).

We live in troubled times. In a genre currently plagued by mediocre PG-13 drivel and endless unnecessary remakes, it seems as though you have a better chance of winning the lottery nowadays than you do of seeing a good horror movie in theaters.

For every Land of the Dead or The Devil's Rejects, we get 10 of some filth like The Fog (the remake, not John Carpenter's original; the newer version should be avoided at all costs). Luckily 2005’s fall season had at least one diamond in the rough, with Saw II.

For those who haven't seen the original, Saw deals with two guys forced to play along in the sadistic game of Jigsaw, a man who teaches immoral people to learn from their sins and appreciate their lives by putting them in situations where they have to fight to survive.

While trapped in an abandoned bathroom, one of the men has to kill the other within a certain time limit or else his wife and young daughter will be murdered. The movie is infamous for its surprise ending, which I won't ruin for anyone but is so intense that the girl I was dating at the time almost vomited when we saw it.

All puking aside, I must admit I felt apprehensive when I first heard about an upcoming sequel. The first movie is great as a stand-alone film and a follow-up seemed like it would only fall short of the high standard set by Saw. I'm glad to say that despite its flaws, however, Saw II is indeed a worthy sequel.

For starters, I knew I would be in good hands after the first five minutes of the film. No time is wasted in reintroducing viewers to the sick games of Jigsaw, and the resulting cringe factor put me on edge for the rest of the movie.

The main plot revolves around Eric Matthews, a down-on-his-luck police officer who is going through a divorce with his wife and has a rocky relationship with his son. When his boy becomes involved in Jigsaw's games and is one of many unwilling participants locked in a house with a deadly nerve agent, Matthews must race against the clock and figure out how to save him before it is too late.

A lot stood out in the film for me; first and foremost, Tobin Bell as Jigsaw is a god. He stole every scene he was in, and I really liked how they added more depth and a back-story to his character. Jigsaw is a morally complex villain and as crazy as he is, I found myself understanding his logic and actually sympathizing with him at times.

Unfortunately, I can't say much for the rest of the characters in the film. Besides Glenn Plummer's character Jonas, I wanted everyone trapped in the house to meet as brutal an end as possible. Jonas was the only one who actually tried thinking rationally; everyone else either just whined and cried (the always annoying Beverley Mitchell) or made idiot decisions (crawling into a furnace in a booby-trapped house).

And I could go on a 500-word rant about how I hate Franky G with every inch of my being and soul, but there isn't enough space in today's review.

Luckily, the ways in which all of these characters are eliminated are incredibly bloody and satisfying. Gorehounds can rest assured that there is plenty of red stuff in this film, most notably in the form of stab wounds and slit throats, various torture devices applied to the body, a nail-studded bat to the head and a shudder-inducing scene involving lots of hypodermic needles.

As for the final act, some of the impact was lost because I went into the film expecting another twist ending and the sequel followed much of the same pattern of the original. This isn't a bad thing; it is still well-written enough and certainly warrants another viewing. Fans of the first film will also appreciate the many references to Saw, which on top of nicely tying the two films together also clears up many unresolved plot points.

Any horror fan tired of the recent trend of catering horror movies toward 15-year-old girls or attempting to make a quick buck by cashing in on a respected franchise should go out and see Saw II as soon as possible. It’s refreshing to see a film take chances and offer both a smart and gory sequel. Although it doesn't top the original, Saw II is definitely a breath of fresh air.

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