Like its predecessor, “Saw II” is a bloody mess in more ways than one. If you’re a fan of last year’s low-budget horror hit “Saw,” though, blood is what you’re hoping for, and you’ll likely not mind the frantic mess of the filmmaking.
The squeamish definitely should stay away, as “Saw II” piles on even more gory deaths and gruesome scenes of mutilation than the original. Lacking a fresh idea, the filmmakers offer essentially the same movie but on a broader scale.
Instead of two people locked in a room by a serial killer testing the horrifying limits to which they will go to survive, we get eight people locked in a booby-trapped house, also faced with awful choices if they hope to live.
The violence is as repugnant and the characters as disagreeable as those in the first movie, yet “Saw II” is marginally better on the strength of an understated performance by Tobin Bell, reprising his role as the diabolical slayer known as Jigsaw.
Bell spent most of the first movie playing possum as a supposed cadaver lying on a bathroom floor. This time, his Jigsaw character is dying of cancer but has orchestrated a grand finale to teach a terrible morality lesson to a cop on his trail, detective Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg).
Mathews and his colleagues (including Dina Meyer repeating her cop role from “Saw”) apprehend Jigsaw early on, only to discover he has trapped eight people in a home filled with deadly gas. Clues are scattered about to direct the victims to syringes containing an antidote, but the house also is fitted with grisly devices of torture and death if the prisoners take a wrong step.
The cops holding Jigsaw can only watch helplessly on TV screens linked to the house. Among Jigsaw’s victims is Mathews’ teenage son (Erik Knudsen) and Amanda (Shawnee Smith, also back from the first movie), a survivor of a previous “life lesson” by the killer.
Also on the victim roster are a hot chick (Emmanuelle Vaugier), a reckless thug (Franky G), a wallflower (Beverly Mitchell) and a street-wise guy (Glenn Plummer).
The sequel has the seal of approval from the original’s creators, director James Wan and his co-writer, Leigh Whannell, who also co-starred in “Saw.” Busy on another movie of their own, the two signed on as executive producers for “Saw II,” Whannell sharing screenwriting credit with first-time director Darren Lynn Bousman.
Bousman had written a stand-alone thriller script of his own, which the producers of “Saw” decided could be reshaped into a sequel to their movie.
The director’s background in music videos and commercials shows clearly, with “Saw II” an assault of quick cuts, individual shots rarely lasting more than a second, the visual commotion evoking a sort of cinematic seasickness as the movie progresses.
There’s little for the actors in the house to do but grow shriller and turn on one another as the clock ticks toward their doom. Wahlberg has a nice hangdog apathy about him at the outset before his character lapses into his own frenzy.
Bell’s Jigsaw is a creepily unflappable presence, his hushed performance offering some welcome quiet moments amid everyone else’s shrieking.
As with “Saw,” the sequel offers no mind-of-the-killer insights, just gratuitous bloodshed and butchery and a few not-too-surprising plot twists. But with a name like “Saw,” fans probably don’t want anything more.