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Twisted Pictures / Lion's Gate Films
Rated: USA: R


You go to see 'em even when you know you'll hate them. Horror Thriller movie fans have got to be the most optimistic bunch in the world. The film community, and I'm not just singling out Hollywood, uses us Horror Thriller fans and we know it. And still we go back on the off chance that, seemingly by freakish accident, we'll actually see a good movie. As if one somehow slipped past the self-described experts.

Did SAW II slip by?

I ask because this movie freaking rocks! The first SAW was okay. Actually it was pretty damn good right up until the ending. When the end came and the credits rolled I was left sitting there saying aloud, "Wait a freaking minute ...!" the ending was a trick, and not a good one. It almost felt like this movie about a tricky gamester played one last trick on the audience, and that was to give us a stupid ending.

SAW II doesn't do that. In fact, SAW II, co-written and directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and co-written by Leigh Wannell (Leigh co-wrote the original SAW story and screenplay, as well as starred in it), cunningly addresses every trope of Suspense Thriller and destroys it, without overtly calling attention to the fact that it's doing it.

As in the first SAW, the movie opens with a fresh victim which, in turn, poses a question to the audience. What kind of person are you? If you found yourself in life threatening circumstances would you do anything to save your life, or would you wallow in your own self victimhood, expecting someone to show mercy until the minutes counted down to your demise?

After the first scene, we meet Det. Eric Mason (Donnie Wahlberg: THE SIXTH SENSE, DREAMCATCHER) and his son, Daniel (Erik Knudson: TRIBULATION). Eric has just had to pull a few strings to spring his son out of jail. The two have a lot of bad history between them, and when Daniel says he wants to go back to his Mother, Eric yells at him to go.

Getting back to the job, Eric is called by his former partner, Kerry (Dina Meyers: STARSHIP TROOPERS, BATS, UNSPEAKABLE, STAR TREK: NEMESIS, SAW) to another crime scene. There is little doubt that the criminal the Media have dubbed, "Jigsaw" is behind it. What's more, he left a calling card, of sorts, for Det. Mason. Mason doesn't bite at first, but events force his hand. Within the first ten minutes of the film, the police have raided the secret hiding place of "Jigsaw", whose real name is John (Tobin Bell: THE FIRM, MALICE, DEEP RED, GOOD NEIGHBOR, SAW). John is a man who never got his act together enough to do anythinig with his life. He let the days pass by telling himself that one day he would do something. Then he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and only then did his life come into focus; but too late. In SAW II, John is at death's door. Confined to an electric wheelchair, he can't run. He can barely move his hands enough to control his chair: But he has what may be one last game to play. And it involves Det. Eric Mason's son, Daniel.

In another place, in another part of the city, Daniel and seven other people wake to find themselves all trapped in a room together - and they're not all teenagers! One of the people in the room is Amanda (Shawnee Smith: THE BLOB [1988], THE STAND [TV], THE SHINING [TV]) from the first SAW movie, and who, apparently, did not learn her lesson the first time. Amanda knows all too well where she is and how devious a trap she is in, but trying to warn the others has almost no effect. Which is one of the reasons why they are in John's game in the first place. Amanda frantically hunts the room, looking for one of John's recorders which will tell them what the game is. The group of people are being poisoned with Sarin gas and have only 2 hours to live. The doors to their prison will open automatically in three. They must find the antidote for all of them to survive the next three hours, and to do hat, they must all do something that doesn't come natural to any of them - work together. For each of them, in their own way, is a selfish predator; living their lives at the intentional expense of those around them. At first, the rest of the group doesn't believe Amanda and tries to get out their own way. Amanda can only stay out of the way until something happens - a few times - before it finally sinks in that John's game is no joke.

And at no time are any of them worried about how popular they are - or aren't - at school. And with only two hours to live, nobody stops for a freaking make-out session; nobody is falling in love! What I'm trying to tell you is, nobody tried to have entire scenes showing how stupid teenagers are! Finally!

One of the many things that fascinates about this movie is not the "Ten Little Indians" plotline, which is spare, but how the film works against formula. One of the key ingredients of any film is that the audience needs someone in the story with whom they can identify - whether its a sweet "Laurie Strode" victim or a warrior "Ripley" coming to save the day. But no one in the story is remotely likable. As the story progresses, some among the ever dwindling group of eight find, in their desperation, a touch of their humanity: a decent, unselfish part of themselves they threw away some time ago. And eventually it is those people that we start to care about - which times itself in accordance with John's twisted game and the pace of the movie as well.

Meanwhile, back at John's hideout, the police are treated to a video feed of the prisoners plight, and some of their deaths. John is an impossible nut to crack. He can't be threatened with justice; he won't live long enough to go to trial. No one can get inside his head like most serial killers, hoping to play on his fears, because John lives with the very real fear of his impending painful death. They can't even torture him because John is in so much pain already. John is fragile, sickly, weak, and unable to defend himself. But he is also quite intelligent, and has a great belief in his personal morals and value system - that of using a game of death to make his prisoners understand the value of their lives. Not everyone survives the game, but that too is part of John's plan. If you don't survive, then you don't deserve the life you have.

Of course, John is also insane. He has no compunction about maiming or killing anyone, however innocent, who tries to interfere with his games.

Its clear John isn't working alone - as we saw in the first movie - he's too weak to have captured these eight people by himself. But with less than 2 hours to find and save the folks in John's prison, there's no time for a city-wide manhunt. The police race against the clock - a large silvery metal box that clicks over the lives of the eight in large red numbers - to decypher the encoded video feed signal. If they can decode it in time, they can trace it back to its source and the prisoners. Throughout it all, John verbally toys with Detective Eric Mason: He knows Mason's secrets, and in a further twist, this is all a game to be played against Mason. Throughout the film, these plots within plots within plots hatch and blister burst, amping up the tension: which is kept at a pitch so high strung it almost rang in my ears.

Truthfully, I wanna go all fanboy on you. I wanna jump up and down and tell you just how cool this movie is and why. But SAW II fills every minute with so many twists and turns that getting specific would just ruin it for you.

The director writer team of Bousemann and Whannell knock this one out of the park. The entire cast is great. Frequent Rob Zombie collaborator, Charlie Clouser (he also scored SAW) scored the film and the music keeps the pace speeding without getting bogged down in distracting lyrics. Cinematographer, David A. Armstrong (RITUAL) also returns from the first film to handle the oppressively filthy interior world look, aided by Set Dresser, Jason Lunn. SAW II is everything a Suspense Thriller is supposed to be and truly an edge of your seat movie. If you've been waiting for a movie that haunts you long after its over, I recommend SAW II with all five Shriek Girls. SAW II is bleeding edge perfect!

This review copyright 2005 E.C.McMullen Jr.


issue #2