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Rated 2.97 stars
by 1539 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
You've Got Red on You
by Adam Hakari

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers about the original Saw. Although most reviews of Saw II will probably include similar information, I wanted to point this out to readers who may not have seen the first movie.  

What's great about horror flicks like Saw is that while they're not true originals, they take what's been done before and transform the elements into a refreshing package. Saw wasn't just another serial killer movie; it had a brain, an intelligence combining a diabolical mindset with some good ol' blood 'n' gore to form a film that didn't just play with your mind, it bounced it off the floor and had you asking for more. But the trouble with crafting a genre effort that breaks the mold is the inevitable downside that follows: doing it again.

Following up Saw is akin to making a sequel to The Sixth Sense; the endings of both films left viewers breathless and wowed. The thought of either one becoming a series with the original shock value intact seems like the dumbest idea in the world. The makers of Saw II must've seen this cynicism coming, since this follow-up is every bit as gruesome and inventive as its predecessor. In fact, it improves upon the original in an area or two as well. Most sequels rushed into producion in order to tap into a potential franchise come out thin and unengaging, but Saw II has lots of meat on its demented little bones.

Saw II continues the story of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), a sort-of serial killer who places people he believes don't value their lives enough into situations where they have to push themselves a little harder than usual in order to retain the privilege of being alive -- mostly, though, they die gruesomely, thanks to Jigsaw's "Rube Goldberg on acid"-style booby traps. After the police come upon Jigsaw's latest victim, it's Detective Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg) who uncovers the location of the madman's lair and leads the charge to bring him to justice. There's just one problem: Jigsaw already set his newest, sickest plans into motion, involving eight people trapped in a of whom is Eric's son (Erik Knudsen).

While the detective and Jigsaw play mind games with one another, those stuck in the house, including former Jigsaw victim Amanda (Shawnee Smith) and hothead Xavier (Franky G), search frantically for a way out, before the nerve gas flowing through the vents turns their bodies to mush in a matter of hours. As Jigsaw himself says, "Oh, yes...There will be blood..."

After a year with only a few great horror films released (three Hide and Seek's for every Land of the Dead), I'm pleased to see Saw II avoiding the bad end of the spectrum. It fuels itself with the same grisly atmosphere and creative energy that made the original film such a modern-day classic. Both films rise above the normal slasher restrictions, not simply killing off characters for the sake of giving the guy who mixes up the fake blood something to do. These films explore Jigsaw's motives and show how the victims' personalities come into play and the fiendishly clever ways they bring about their own ends, rendering Jigsaw blameless for the crimes (though, admittedly, that's a veeeeeeery thin technicality). Saw II simply continues the work of its predecessor, taking the story and its various elements to a slightly higher level while possessing the same smarts, thrills, and diabolical intelligence that made it all work in the first place.

Saw II features more polished acting than the original (still, with such a tight shooting schedule, one can't blame Saw's performances for ringing a little flat). All the characters serve a single function for the entire movie, but they each manage to keep the audience involved in their own personal storylines. Wahlberg is your basic Grizzled Movie Cop (swearing with every breath, five o'clock shadow, etc.), and Bell is the meek but wily villain. Together, these two develop their own intriguing criminal/cop relationship, one reminiscent of Clarisse and Hannibal in Silence of the Lambs.

Less successful are the eight screaming victims who whine about how much they want to get out to one degree or another (although the filmmakers did a good job of working back in Smith's character from the first film). Luckily, scenes featuring the deadly traps -- ranging from a "death mask" lined with nails to something like a "needle pit" --  generate just as much interest and are equally as tense as those in Saw.  First-time director Darren Lynn Bousman not only keeps this inventive streak flowing while weaving a story around it that's consistently suspenseful but also ends the film with an inevitable plot twist that maintains the Saw jaw-dropping tradition. 

Saw II works brilliantly, both as a sequel and a stand-alone creepfest.

MY RATING: *** 1/2 (out of ****)

(Released by Lions Gate Films and rated "R" for grisly violence and gore, terror, language and drug content.)

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