A film of absolutely zero great shakes, the original Saw holds a place of fondness in my heart strictly for the fact that it was the first I saw after John Kerry conceded defeat in the 2004 Presidential election; faced with the prospect of four more years with the newly
reelected elected George W. Bush, the story of lowlifes forced to mutilate their bodies in order to survive the sick games of a messianic psychopath was nothing short of a pick-me-up. That being said, it was a mostly crappy affair, peddling acting of the hammy kind (notably Danny Glover's borderline-satirical turn as a nutso investigator) in what amounted to a load of unnecessary and totally obvious, albeit amusing, dick teasing. Assuming it worthy of tainting to begin with, we can assume that money is to blame for the decline in this first of many sequels, a Reloaded style one-up in which more people are trapped in bigger places and forced to perform scarier tasks with nastier results. Melodrama is the new thing here, as serial killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) finally gets a face for his name and the newfound Detective Eric Mason (Donnie Wahlberg) a chance to atone for his social "sins" by saving his son from the villain's latest master plan, in which the the young boy - along with ten other individuals, all knowingly and falsely convicted by Mason himself - has been locked inside a house filled with toxic gas that will break down their nervous system if they fail to escape/be rescued in time. As is typical of anything even remotely inspired by The Usual Suspects arm-twisting dreck, Saw II's narrative cat-and-mouse games are derived not from intelligent plotting or genuine surprise, but borderline-absurd editing schemes that bend over backwards to obscure, rather than embellish, story and theme. Not that there's much of the latter, what with the film's "appreciate life" shtick summed up in any three sentences of Jigsaw's pretentious pontifications, stale rehashes of Seven's devastating final act, lacking both the doomed weight of Fincher's film and its sense of real-world philosophy. With its over-the-top approach of all-out sensual assault - constantly roving cameras, overexposed editing tricks, neo-goth soundtrack remixed and repeated ad nausea - Saw II aims not to enlighten its audience, as per its main character's sinister plans, but simply to make them squirm. A pity, too, given how its setpieces - horrific in theory only - could be used to far more rewarding ends, would the film set aside its almighty dollar ethos long enough to treat the audience as anything other than a sucker at the carnival sideshow.