Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) is under a lot of stress. In between a pending divorce, his sullen, withdrawn son Daniel (Erik Knudsen), and complicated murder cases, Matthews has little margin for error in his personal and professional lives.
After an investigation of a grisly murder scene that was the work of the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell), Matthews and his fellow detectives rapidly find clues that soon lead to Jigsaw himself. But getting caught is all just part of Jigsaw’s greater plan. Daniel Matthews, along with seven other unfortunate individuals, is trapped in a house, with mere hours to live. He and his unlikely allies, including heroin addict Amanda (Shawnee Smith), are forced to take sides and find clues to solve the deadly puzzle and find an antidote before they succumb to poison–or get killed by the others.
Jigsaw plays psychological games with Matthews, whose only desire is to find his son alive and well. Jigsaw explains his motivations for his work, saying that “those who do not appreciate life do not deserve life.” He also reveals part of his backstory and what drove him to “test the fabric of human nature.” As time runs out in the house, Matthews grows weary. Can he survive his own game before his son is killed?
In a rare twist (especially in horror), this sequel might be better than the first. Saw II succeeds better than its predecessor primarily because it has better acting, writing, and overall production value. Although shot on only a slightly larger budget than the first Saw film (which grossed roughly $50 million in the U.S. alone), Saw II has a more controlled feel to it, and is less guerrilla-style than the first one.
On a purely entertaining level, the second one succeeds more, as well. The traps are more elaborate, there’s more gore, and it works as a continuation of events of the first film, albeit with more people in games and more on-screen depiction of Jigsaw himself. Tobin Bell is very solid in this film, and his scenes with Donnie Wahlberg are some of the best in the whole series.
However, one of the biggest reasons that the first Saw was so successful is that you truly cared about the fate of the characters involved. Saw II, unfortunately, isn’t as good on that level; apart from Detective Matthews and his son, there are very few sympathetic characters in this film. While Wahlberg is a better lead than Cary Elwes was in the first film, the characters just don’t have the same depth as the first film’s characters did.
In the Saw II house, Daniel Matthews is the only guy with even a modicum of innocence to him. A heroin addict, a prostitute, two rival gangbangers, a thief, a white-collar embezzler, and an arsonist are paired up in the same area as Daniel. You can’t get much more unsympathetic than those types of characters.
And I get it. It’s supposed to be that way. Jigsaw, as the twisted puppet-master, desires to play God, so to speak, and redeem these morally bankrupt people into making a change–by putting them through brutal games and tests that will teach them to live gratefully. That’s the twisted moral to this story. Therefore, we don’t expect these characters to be particularly savory. Still, you’re left wanting more.
Other than those minor complaints, I really enjoy Saw II. It’s arguably the most entertaining out of the whole series. Do not watch if you’re offended by graphic violence, disturbing images, or profanity.
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Produced by Oren Koules, Gregg Hoffman, and Mark Burg
Written by Leigh Whannell & Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring Donnie Wahlberg, Tobin Bell, Erik Knudsen, Shawnee Smith, Franky G, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Glenn Plummer, Dina Meyer, Lyriq Bent, Beverley Mitchell, Tim Burd, and Tony Nappo.
Rated R for grisly violence and gore, terror, language and drug content.