As we await the release of the ninth Saw franchise gorefest Spiral, my Jigsaw Files posts continue with Saw II. If you missed my first entry for the 2004 original, you can find it here:
When Saw was released in October of 2004, Lionsgate didn’t know they had a series that would continue into three separate decades. The opening weekend grosses changed that and a sequel was immediately commissioned. Not only that – the studio wanted it out fast in time for the 2005 Halloween box office. Darren Lynn Bousman, as luck would have it, already had a screenplay outside of the Saw universe that could serve as a template. Franchise co-creator Leigh Whannell was brought in to bring the script into this demented world. And Saw II was hurried into production to meet that all important drop date.
The rushed production schedule does not deter this from generally doing what a sequel needs to do. It builds upon its predecessor. It looks like more of a sophisticated final product (at $4 million, it nearly quadrupled the budget of part one). There’s a twist ending that legitimately manages to surprise. Most of all, Saw II (even more than Saw) sets the formula for those that followed.
Whether that’s a good thing likely depends on your stomach for this type of material. Like many horror follow-ups, part II is bloodier and more sadistic. Picking up from the shocking ending of Saw when we learn who Jigsaw is, this puts a lot more meat on the bones of its central antagonist. We learn more about John Kramer (Tobin Bell) and his cancer diagnosis that causes him to develop these games of survival. Or as he describes it… “testing the fabric of human nature.” In John/Jigsaw’s world, he’s allowing his potential victims a chance to appreciate their lives and give them a second chance. A lot of them don’t see it that way.
His sights are set on corrupt detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) here. Jigsaw orchestrates the abduction of eight strangers in a dim dungeon to toy with. This includes the detective’s teen son (Erik Knudsen). The seven others are all of a criminal mind. The unexpected addition is Amanda (Shawnee Smith), who we glimpsed in Saw and was a survivor of Jigsaw’s tests (she even appreciated his unconventional method of getting her off smack).
Jigsaw is captured early in the film. It doesn’t take long to figure out that this is on purpose and he holds court with Detective Matthews as he tries to save his estranged boy. According to the ailing prisoner, the detective only needs to follow his instructions step by step. Unfortunately, the new character on the block’s temper prevents that from happening. I’m not sure if Bousman and Whannell wanted us to root for Wahlberg’s character. Probably not. If by any chance they did, that’s a failure because we don’t mind Jiggy gettin’ the best of him.
Saw II truly begins the parade of gross out gags and creative deaths that have marked the series. The most squirm inducing involves needing to find a key. In this situation, the key is the needle and the haystack happens to be needles. By the time we reach our climax, a time shifting revelation manages to fool us. It’s not as effective as Jigsaw rising from that disgusting washroom floor in Saw, but it’s pretty good stuff.
I give the filmmakers due credit with the first sequel. This was made to make a release date and it did so without seeming like a rip-off of its source material. Far from it.
The Jigsaw Files will continue with Saw III (2006)…