SAW II: Horror Junkies’ Guilty Pleasure
Saw II might not be as strong or as fresh as its predecessor, but it has enough about it that works, making it a guilty pleasure watch.
As the Saw franchise will be adding a new installment with the release of Jigsaw in October, I thought it would be fun to revisit all the entries in one of horror’s most popular franchises. Every week, I’ll be watching and reviewing the respective films in chronological order. For this week, let’s revisit the beloved Saw II.
After the first Saw became a sensation, Saw II was bound to happen sooner rather than later. At first glance, the sequel has more money, a different director, and is far gorier than the original. This isn’t something new for horror movies, especially back then, and while Saw II is a bumpy sequel, its shocking (and sometimes rather clever) twists give it a guilty pleasure status.
After the events of Saw, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is a wanted sadistic serial killer. When Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Walhberg) finally finds him, Jigsaw unveils his new sadistic game. He has kidnapped eight people, one of them Eric’s own son, Daniel (Eric Knudsen), and put them in a torture house built to inflict pain onto his victims. With the police getting to watch it all unfold on CCTVs, the eight victims will have to figure it out fast, as poisonous gas is pumped into the house.
Bloody Good Fun
At its core, Saw II creates the structure of the next installments. It offers two story-lines – one with the police and what I like to call the “torture story-line.” At first, they may seem, for the most part, separate stories but they always come together before the end of the film. II‘s story lines start out pretty forgettable. However, as the film progresses, certain twists make both stories much better. They add stakes, emotions, and some much-needed character development. Both stories benefit greatly from each other, and as a result, they become more compelling than at first.
Although the writing isn’t impeccable, it’s at its best when it focuses on characters. These moments usually come in the form of twists, and it’s the reason why they are so intriguing. Eric Matthews’ life is interesting, as his secrets keep piling on and the characters in the house are at their best when they reveal their backstories.
However, apart from Jigsaw and Matthews, the script is never able to find meaningful things for all our characters to do. A lot of them are there for the sole purpose to die a gruesome way, while others are there to advance the plot. Matthew’s son is never actually given a reason to be there in the first place, and serves only to further his father’s character arc. A lot of the characters serve the purpose to make Saw II a gorier film, a trope that will continue to live on in the next entries.
However, II still has a fair share of recycled tropes. The film’s over-reliance on quick editing and slow motion shots are infuriating, to say the least. Director Darren Lynn Bousman seems to have no understanding where to use these except for the fact that he needs to. He uses them at awkward moments that damage any sense of emotion he wants to convey. This type of editing was used effectively in the first Saw, but become rather messy and annoying the second time around.
Again, Bousman uses quick editing and blurry shots to convey insanity. But unlike the first one, he’s unable to achieve the same effect, mostly because he over-relies on this trick to scare his audience. After the fifth time using this same effect, it just becomes irritating and overexposed. It becomes apparent that these technical methods are just there to make II more cohesive with the first. There isn’t any inspiration behind these techniques, like when Wan used them, and it’s the reason they are quite awkward this time around.
Guilty Pleasure Culture
There’s no doubt that Saw II is a full blown guilty pleasure film for the horror junkies. There are many elements, unintentional or not, that validate this point and explains why fans of the franchise adore the second entry.
If you’re one of the people who thought Saw was unbelievable, then Saw II will definitely not appeal to you. It builds on the previous entry, and by doing so, it goes from one room to many rooms. In the many rooms, it features intricate torture devices that would like to make you believe that Jigsaw has handcrafted each and every one of them. Although it’s not impossible, it seems very unlikely.
Another element of guilty pleasure comes from II‘s obsession with making sure you, as a viewer, have understood every twist. Even though you’re more likely to have recognized immediately when it’s revealed, II goes the unnecessary length to show you footage from scenes earlier in the film. The over explanation obviously comes from Saw‘s famous ending, and it still shows a lack of trust towards its viewers.
However, the third and final element is probably the most accomplished one yet, and that’s II‘s clever twists. All of Saw II‘s twists and turns are compelling, and some are quite clever. Having great twists is a major part of why Saw II succeeds at being a guilty pleasure watch, and makes it easier to plow through its rougher parts. Eventually, the parts you found to be dull will become something else entirely, and when twists are used this effectively, they can change a film such as they definitely change Saw II.
Jigsaw And His Many Puzzle Pieces
The second entry spotlights Tobin Bell as the murderous Jigsaw. He’s the better actor of the bunch, providing a sense of mystery to the film. This depiction of Jigsaw is interesting. He is the most vulnerable in the room, unable to walk, and talks with a growling near death voice, yet he’s also the smartest, always having the upper hand in the situation. His own experience shapes his worldview and with his ego, and he decides that people will learn as he has learned. He puts himself in situations where he is the one that judges people by their actions, painting a twisted version of the Christian God.
Throughout the franchise, it’s no secret that Saw borrows a lot from Christian mythology and Jigsaw clearly has a god-complex, where he perceives himself as having extra privilege and inflated personal abilities. In this second entry, he plays “games” or “tests” of trust and patience, much like the Biblical story of Job. By putting these people’s lives on the line, he believes that they will find a new love for their life. This is eerily similar to Job, where God has taken everything away from him in hopes that he will not give up his faith in Him. In his own twisted way, Jigsaw recreates this infamous Biblical story to horrific proportions.
Following suit with II‘s use of Christian symbolism, this entry is all about redemption. For Jigsaw, there are many different ways someone can redeem themselves, and they are all showed in the film. Drug dealers, prostitutes, and self-harmers are, in Jigsaw’s eyes, unworthy of their life because they harm their bodies. The only way they may become worthy and learn of their mistake is putting them through a process where their lives become at stake, and the harm caused to their bodies is out of their control.
Saw II: Conclusion
While Saw II isn’t as good technically as its predecessor, its many clever twists, and exploration of Jigsaw’s mind make the second entry a fun guilty pleasure watch. Some truly terrible technicalities and mindless elements keep it from being highbrow horror, but for horror buffs, like myself, there’s a certain charm – a certain enjoyment – that transcends its flaws. Although filmmaking is a big part in any successful horror movie, Saw II is the rare exception that still works.
As a fan of the Saw franchise, do you find Saw II to be one of the strongest of the series?
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