Filmed hot-on-the-heels of its sleeper-hit predecessor Saw (2004) (which wasn’t actually all that bad, and holds the rare accolade of being a horror film of which I did not second-guess the ending), Saw II (2005) saw the return of ‘psycho-with-a-God-complex’ known as Jigsaw (Tobin Bell); he’s upped the ante from the first film, with an elaborate (and overly contrived) test for a group of ‘guilty’ victims (including Shawnee Smith, Saw‘s sole survivor).
The motley crew wakes up in a house that’s rapidly filling with deadly nerve gas, and there are booby traps, taunting clues and hidden antidotes galore. By way of side entertainment, Jigsaw taunts ‘burned-out detective with a shady legacy’ Eric Mason (Donnie Wahlberg, who likely cried all the way to the bank after this appearance). The killer has chosen his son as one of the prisoners and a video hook-up displays their dwindling numbers as zero-hour approaches…
The script, co-written by first-time feature director Darren Lynn Bousman and the with original’s screenwriter Leigh Whannel, is way too clever (as opposed to intelligent) for its own good, and unfortunately vitiates the first film’s genuine sense of menace and foreboding by revealing too much of Jigsaw’s justifications for his diabolical schemes.
There’s also very little effort made towards genuine characterisations for the victims, who appear to have been included simply to provide numerous opportunities for sadistic, grisly deaths that are inventive but pointless.
The much vaunted twists and spring-loaded traps also give the impression that they have been put together by committee, and, as for Bousman’s queasy-cam cinematography (the cheerless images pitch, roll, bob and whip around, just so you know that something really scary is happening), the less said the better.
There are a few genuine surprises amid the Jigsaw/victim-on-victim cruelty, but, for the most part, the ordeal leaves little more than a bad taste in the mouth. Sadomasochists only need apply.