Been there, “Saw” that

Betsy Milarcik

The biggest problem with sequels is that they are inevitably compared to their parent films. Occasionally a sequel will be amazing, standing completely on its own and blowing the original into the chasm of forgotten movies. Only then can the sequel be viewed without association to the “other” film. “Saw II,” unfortunately, is not one of these films. Is “Saw II” a good movie? It’s hard to say. It isn’t amazing, it isn’t terrible, but most importantly, it isn’t the original.

“Saw II” centers on Jigsaw, a killer of sorts who, instead of murdering his victims outright, places them in impossible situations that, while they offer an escape, usually result in death. This is because his victims lack the survival instinct. Jigsaw is careful to prey on those who are unappreciative of their lives in some way or another, wasting their time on Earth with drugs or suicide attempts. He then shows them how valuable their lives really are by putting his prisoners in life-threatening situations and forcing them to act extremely if they want to live.

The film opens with a terrifying sequence in which a man wakes up in a strange room wearing a “death mask” around his neck, a device similar to a bear trap that, after a certain period of time, will snap shut and take his life. The only way to break free is to unlock the mask and remove it from his neck using the key. And where is the key? It has been implanted into his body, meaning the only way to free himself is to tear apart his very flesh first.

In “Saw” (the original), Jigsaw tortured and tested not only his victims, but also the police with his evasiveness. Not so in “Saw II.” The old boy (for old he is indeed) disappoints us by being captured by the police within the first 20 minutes of the film. But Jigsaw isn’t finished yet. The police come upon the mastermind as what will be his final grand scheme is in progress.

And grand it is: Jigsaw has not one, but many victims, including the son of one of Jigsaw’s law enforcing capturers. The movie follows these several prisoners, trapped in a house together, as they try to figure out Jigsaw’s clues, follow his instructions, work their way through more of his twisted scenarios, and, hardest of all, work with each other. Meanwhile, the agent whose son is trapped in this nightmare situation tries to abide by a different set of Jigsaw’s rules in an attempt to save his son.

“Saw II” has a supreme edge over other horror movies: it is a film that thinks. This flick depends not merely on fear to hold its viewers captive, but also on mystery and suspense. Jigsaw’s victims are there for a reason, and each of his sick scenarios for them is based on that reason, such as the drug dealer who had to find a crucial key at the bottom of a pile of hypodermic needles. A deeper mystery lies in how the characters are connected to one another – they were not placed together at random. This movie-watching experience is not only riveting, but also challenging as the viewer tries to follow the clues and pick up the pieces that the characters are missing.

While all of this is interesting, it’s hard not to remember one film that upstages “Saw II”: “Saw.” “Saw” concentrated on the backgrounds of the characters, giving more depth to Jigsaw’s crazy acts. “Saw II,” on the other hand, only grazes the surfaces of its characters’ pasts as much as it needs to. The film has too many people to concentrate on everyone’s history and, as a result, alludes to previous events without explaining them. Its purpose in cramming in victims, of course, is to include as many death-inducing scenarios as possible: the more people there are, the more people can die horrible deaths. Oh yes, there will be blood. The abundance of blood in “Saw II” doesn’t detract from the film necessarily, but proves that the movie has lost its focus. “Saw II” tries to be a psychological film AND a gorefest, too much for any film to do gracefully in under two hours. More is definitely less in “Saw II.”

“Saw II” is a horror film that leaves you not only shivering, but also puzzled. A layer of mystery sets this movie apart from usual scary flicks, making it worthwhile to check out. But if you plan on investigating “Saw II,” make sure you check out “Saw” as well. Although the sequel can imitate the original well, it could never overshadow it.