Friday, 7 April 2006

Friday, 7 April 2006

DIRECTOR: Darren Lyn Bousman CAST: Donnie Wahlberg (Det. Mathews), Shawnee Smith (Amanda), Tobin Bell (John/Jigsaw), Dina Meyer (Kerry), Franky G (Xavier), Glenn Plummer (Jonas) more...
In recent years an apparent renaissance of old-fashioned horror has begun to emerge, with Cabin Fever and The Descent both eskewing CGI in favour of blood bags and make-up. 2004's Saw was a low-budget horror with a killer premise (pardon the pun), whereby a psychotic serial-killer known as Jigsaw imprisoned his victims and presented them with fiendish puzzles to solve and avoid death.

Saw's delicious premise, old-style frights, painful death/torture scenes and a surprisingly effective twist ending, ensured the film became a sleeper hit (indeed, it single-handedly funded the studio's Christmas party.)

Now, the fast-tracked sequel arrives, hoping to break the curse of the sequel (never more prevailant than in horror). Saw II relies on the usual sequel gambit -- more of the same, with twists on the theme. So this time corrupt Detective Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg) captures Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), but has to play a game himself in order for the villain to reveal where he's keeping a house full of imprisoned people breathing in toxic gas...

Unfortunately, while Saw revelled in its psychological angle - wherein the victims fought to survive the horrors inflicted on them as part of "the game", the sequel generally forgets about this element and offers far more bland torture devices. Only the opening "death mask", a "peep-hole gun" and "pit of needles" prove memorable, with everything else sadly lacking in originality and the twisted genius of the original.

It was certainly brave for Saw II to unmask its antagonist, who remained an unseen boogeyman in the original (only given physicality by a sinister puppet on a tricycle), but it's yet another piece of bad judgement. Tobin Bell has a wonderfully creepy screen presence and cool-as-ice voice, and manages to become the saving grace of the movie in many ways, but he can't escape the plain fact that he was twice as scary when he was unseen...

Perhaps Bell's newfound starring role was to counter-balance the criminal lack of acting talent elsewhere. You don't expect a movie such as Saw II to attract Oscar-winners, or even screenwriters particularly interested in character development, but Saw II suffers from a larger cast with no particularly likeable characters.

Donnie Wahlberg looks lost half the time, while the rag-tag group of victims just argue with each other before dying. Say what you will about Cary Elwes' performance in the original, but at least the original focused on two characters and created a compelling backstory for them both. Saw II is far too self-satisfied with its own existence to bother giving fans a satisfying companion piece to the movie they turned into a smash-hit last year. Characters? A logical backstory? No chance. Blood, blood, blood, that's what the kids want... right?

On the plus side, Saw II shares the same style and look of the original (it helps give franchises like this an overall identity, I feel), and there are some effective moments along the way that remind you how enjoyably twisted this franchise can be. Also, for what it's worth, I didn't expect there to be a twist ending this time around, so when one came along it proved a surprise (which was nice) but lacks believability in the cold light of day. In fact, the twist could mean
Saw III will prove to be a tricky sell for any fans still left after this disappointing follow-up.


PICTURE: Quality is very good, with nice dingy colours and a green/yellow grungy feel throughout. The blacks aren't particularly pure and there is a lot of grain on the image, but most of this is intentional. There are some distracting artifacts to be found, however.

SOUND: There is no DD5.1 EX track for Region 2, but the existing DD5.1 track is very good, with enough going on to immerse you in the experience aurally.

  • 5 Featurettes (one covering the entire movie, and 4 focusing on the film's key "traps") All are entertaining, particularly the "needle pin" featurette, but nothing revelatory here. For some reason the Region 1 extra feature about the props of Saw II is missing.
  • Commentary Track from director Bousman and stars Wahlberg and Beverly Mitchell is enjoyable because of their enthusiasim, particularly from Bousman.
  • 4 Storyboard-To-Film comparisons; the usual stuff.
Not a bad release (certainly better than Saw's debut on DVD), but die-hard fans may want to hold out for the invevitable Special Edition to tie-in with Saw III's release this Halloween.