Saw II

| November 5, 2005

The sequel to last year’s surprising success Saw returns to the deranged mind of the Jigsaw killer, delivering a ghastly pointless exercise in testing the audience’s stamina. The dizzying, jerky camerawork, spinning quick cuts and slow motion ballyhoo, delivers jarring nonsense for those with the attention span of a five year old.
The story begins with Eric Matthews (played by Donnie Wahlberg), a tough talking cop with a troubled son. Matthews is a character straight out of cop parody: he smokes too much, drinks too much coffee, has a short temper, and likes to slam file cabinets and doors to express his anger. He’s a policeman on the brink, disengaged from his personal life and run ragged by the challenges of living in a crazy world.
But he’s drawn into a complex, morally ambiguous labyrinth when he is targeted by the Jigsaw killer. Matthews, along with Kerry, his ex-partner, and a team of SWAT members, tracks down the Jigsaw killer to a creaky abandoned warehouse. They find a cryptic menagerie of booby traps and architectural drawings as well as a wheel-chair bound, obviously sick old man (played by B-movie legend Tobin Bell) who turns out to be the notorious killer.
As the police begin to take Jigsaw away, he lets them in on a little secret. Pointing to a decrepit old monitor, Jigsaw reveals his trump card: he’s trapped Matthews’s son, and six other strangers, in a house full of poisonous gas and in two hours they are all going to die. Jigsaw will help the police find his victims, if Matthews will simply talk to him.
The predictable dual structure emerges. The first follows Eric Matthews as he verbally spars with Jigsaw, the second details the occupants of the sealed house and their slow, torturous demise. The flawed structure eliminates any sense of atmosphere that the main storyline might create. (A better film would cut the Matthews’s storyline and simply start with the people waking up in a strange house.)
Jigsaw proves to be a talky arch-villain. The implausibility of his scheme stretches even the most na├»ve moviegoer’s beliefs. He appears a genius at everything, a mastermind of manipulation who has dedicated his life to the construction of demented and deadly games. He is rich without working; he can construct complex death traps from the relative immobility of his chair; he can predict the reactions of his victims; he has taken every variable into account. He displays the specialist’s knowledge of electronics, poisonous gas, architecture, and psychology. Like many horror villains, he seems to be omnipotent.
Matthews’s son, meanwhile, must try and solve the game Jigsaw has thrust him into. Straight out of an episode of The Twilight Zone (and very similar in concept to The Cube), the seven strangers are told they have something in common, and that their commonality holds the key to their survival. A specific challenge awaits each captive, where the antidote to the poison is dangled just out of reach. Predictable infighting occurs, contrived drama where people know things about each other they’ve never met. The set-up serves as a springboard for lots of bad, histrionic acting, which grows worse as the characters succumb to the poisonous gas’s effects.
The film’s worst sin revolves around Jigsaw, who explains his mission to Matthews with deadpan aplomb, speaking in aphorisms without really saying anything. He fashions himself a sort of life-giving vigilante and the film seems to be on his side, resulting in a sick and vicious underlying philosophy. The film is telling us that these people, stuck like rats in Jigsaw’s maze, deserve to be killed. It’s a twisted, sadistic message from a twisted, sadistic film. Other words come to mind: fascist, cruel, depraved, brutish, filthy, pointless, and nasty. To sum up: it’s a colossal waste of time.
Saw II follows in the footsteps of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the like, where the people onscreen are cut, ripped, slashed, and eviscerated while the audience looks on through interlaced fingers. This type of horror film, relying on gore and blood and viscera, only works on rare occasions. Here, it fails. Saw II excoriates the audience with blood-soaked depravity, but torturing characters we know nothing about and don’t care for is mere silliness, a form of pornography, simply substituting blood for other fluids.
The primal emotions good horror movies induce – paranoia, fear, and despair – are replaced with revulsion. The art of titillation is gone. There’s no plot. There’s no suspense. The outcome is never in doubt. This is a sick universe on display, crumbling beneath the pretensions of its unimaginative gods. The filmmakers have forgotten a universal maxim of movies: thrillers are supposed to be fun.
The “puzzle” of the film turns out to be, well, nothing, really. Vile stuff, indeed, and a sure sign that our tastes, if not our whole culture, is spiraling down the drain.

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