Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Produced by Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules, Mark Burg
Written by Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannell
Director of Photograpy David A. Armstrong
Music by Charlie Clouser
Cast: Donnie Wahlberg, Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Dina Meyer, Beverly Mitchell
2005/92 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
1.78:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Lionsgate Home Entertainment DVD
When SAW hit U.S. theaters in October, 2004, it was deemed a modest hit, as it opened at #3 with $18 million. But, the film remained popular over the following weeks and generated a great deal of buzz. In my opinion, this had to do with two factors -- 1. The film offered an intensity and gruesome nature which was rarely seen in a "mainstream" film, and 2. More importantly, the movie offered one of the best shock endings ever. With apologies to M. Night Shyamalan, the ending of SAW was easily the best of the last decade and anyone who says that they saw it coming is a liar. Given the quick financial success of the film, it wasn't surprising that Lionsgate immediately greenlit a sequel. But with the creators of SAW working on another film, new blood was brought in for SAW II. Could they capture the same grisly magic?

(*** SPOILER WARNING: It would be virtually impossible to discuss the events of SAW II without giving away some of the secrets from SAW. So if you haven't seen SAW, don't say that you weren't warned.) SAW II opens an indeterminate amount of time after the first film. As the film opens, a man is killed by one of the Jigsaw contraptions which we recognize from the first film. Following this, Detective Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg) is called to the scene. There, he and fellow officer, Kerry (Dina Meyer) (who was seen in the first film), discover some unsettling clues, some of which are aimed directly at Mathews. Examining the deadly device, the police get a lead on Jigsaw's location. After storming a factory, and setting off several booby-traps, Mathews and Kerry find Jigsaw (Tobin Bell).

But, Jigsaw isn't ready to go quietly, as he reveals his most sinister trap. He unveils a group of video monitors which show a group of people who are trapped in a house, which is in a undisclosed location. Jigsaw states that the individuals are breathing poisonous gas and will die unless they are rescued. The film then begins to cut back and forth between the people trapped in the house of horrors and Mathews confrontation with Jigsaw, which brings us two questions -- Can Mathews get any answers from Jigsaw and will the prisoners make it out of the house alive?

SAW II follows the old pattern of the "bigger is better" sequel. The movie attempts to one-up the first film by providing more victims and more traps. On top of this, the traps are much more sinister and lethal -- taking the idea of a deadly Rube Goldberg mechanism even farther. The movie takes the ideas from SAW, be those concerning the script and cringe factor, and amplifies them 1000%. These creates some easily identified pros and cons for the movies.

The biggest flaw in the film is the basic story. With SAW part of the appeal of the movie was the mystery as why the main characters were being tormented. The film took the very simple premise of two strangers locked in a room together and slowly built a story (like a jigsaw puzzle!) which connected more and more simply unrelated points. And of course, the kicker came in the closing moments of the movie. While SAW II has a similar structure, the proceedings simply aren't as interesting. Having more characters in the house means that we get to know very little about each character and when their relationship is revealed, it's not only not surprising, but disappointing as well. SAW II contains a twist ending, but it doesn't come close to matching the impact of the first film. This has to do with the fact that smart viewers will spot at least one of the twists from the beginning. But, I must give credit to the movie, as it throws the audience one of the greatest curveballs in cinema history to throw them off of the trail. Also, the fact that we now know who Jigsaw is and why he's doing these things robs the film of some of its power.

While the film's plot is weak, the movie really pushes the envelope when it comes to overall shocks. Clearly, co-writers Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannel (co-writer of the original film) spent a great deal of time creating the traps and torture devices used in the film. A new device/trap situation is introduced every few minutes and the movie becomes a shock machine as the incidents become increasingly gruesome, making SAW look very tame at times. There are at least two scenes which will have even the most jaded viewers wincing or turning away from the screen. Whereas SAW drew the viewer in with its barebones plot which grew into a larger story, SAW II seems to be pushing the audience away with its gory sideshow of the macabre. It is debatable whether SAW II is a necessary sequel or a worthy sequel, but it is certainly a film which makes the viewer sit up and pay attention. And while SAW had an unforgettable ending, SAW II offers some scenes which will stay with the viewer whether they like it or not.

SAW II cuts a swath across DVD courtesy Lionsgate Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The film was shown in theaters at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There isn't much information lost with the 1.78:1 framing and many viewers won't notice a difference, but it's important that consumers know that the film has been altered. This issue aside, the image looks good. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a small amount of grain -- and this is most likely due to the dark and de-saturated look of the film. The image is dark, but this is intentional and the action is always visible. The colors look good, although the hues appear to have been muted in the film, except for the red of the blood. Artifacting issues are kept to a minimum. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The audio is filled with surround sound effects and bone-crushing subwoofer action. However, these effects never overpower the dialogue. The musical cues sound very good as well. Overall, this is a nice transfer, but the framing issues must be taken into consideration.

The SAW II DVD contains an unusual assortment of extras. There is an audio commentary with director/co-writer Darren Lynn Bousman and actors Donnie Wahlberg and Beverly Mitchell. This is a fun talk as the trio describe the fact that the entire film was shot in and around one building. They also talk about the twists and turns in the film and mention the fact that even though they were involved with the movie, certain things take them by surprise. "Jigsaw's Game" (3 minutes) features clips, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage and offers an overview of the movie's plot. "The Traps of Jigsaw" offers four brief featurettes which examine four of the traps in the movie. The segment has interviews and footage that detail the traps. We learn more about the designs of the props and the special effects makeup in "Bits & Pieces: The Props of Jigsaw" (5 minutes). There are "Storyboard to Screen" comparisons for four scenes. The extras are rounded out by a "Conceptual Art Gallery" and the "Theatrical Trailer", which is letterboxed at 1.78:1. It's surprising that there's not a more in-depth "making of" featurette on the DVD, as I would have liked to have known more about the speed at which the film was made and how Bousman became involved.





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Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©