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Subpar ‘Saw’ sequel fails to deliver scares

Observer Scene | Wednesday, November 2, 2005

The obligatory sequel to one of the biggest horror sleeper hits since “The Blair Witch Project,” the gory, stomach-turning spectacle “Saw II” is fun as a shallow, macabre Halloween treat, but fails to deliver enough creativity (and, strangely enough, violence) to stand up to its rather noteworthy predecessor.

The reins handed over to first-time director Darren Lynn Bousman, “Saw II” goes through all the requisite motions to deliver an entertaining but creatively disappointing second meeting with the Jigsaw Killer. Shocking in its depictions of human mutilation and depravity, the original “Saw” was filmed on a bare-bones (no pun intended) budget and drew noteworthy and admirable comparisons to another low-budget horror masterpiece, George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” as well as the more recent “Blair Witch.”

This sequel gets the Hollywood gloss, but the originality present in its predecessor stretches too thin here. In addition, the film is crippled by several huge horror-film clichés that mar the overall quality of the film.

Nevertheless, “Saw II” delivers several truly nauseating moments that, by themselves, deserve recognition. In particular, the film exploits psychological fears of needles to great (and gruesome) effect – in short, “Saw II” is not a film for the squeamish or faint of heart.

However, interestingly enough, the biggest problem with the film is how restrained it is with regards to the violence displayed onscreen. In a film such as this, where violence is pushed to the forefront of the experience, it is strange and anticlimactic to see that several of the deaths are left off-screen, and when a killing does take place front and center, the result is largely unimaginative, given horror-film standards. Simply put, “Saw II” does not deliver on its promise of the gore that was so shocking in the original. It isn’t depraved enough.

Part of this may be due to the decision to concentrate on the tension between the now-captured Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and the detective he places at the center of his sadistic games, Detective Eric Mason (Donnie Wahlberg). Seven people, including Mason’s son, are trapped in Jigsaw’s custom-made house of horrors (which includes the disgusting bathroom/torture chamber of the first film), into which is pumping a deadly nerve agent that threatens to have the home’s occupants bleeding out of every orifice on their bodies within two short hours.

Scary, but not as scary as the more visceral torture devices present in “Saw.” So, even though Jigsaw is in the custody of the police, he holds the trump card. Scenes of violence ensue within the house, inter-cut with the bloated and overly-faux philosophical ramblings of Jigsaw on his past, his present and why he kills so sadistically. Unfortunately, the audience never really cares, given the heavy-handed and illogical way said information is presented.

People die, tremendous amounts of blood are shed, and yet, by the film’s quizzical and convoluted finish, the question that begs to be asked is this – why so uninspired? Are nerve gas and knife fights, guns and baseball bats the best the creators of “Saw” could come up with for their sequel?

Not smart enough to be “Silence of the Lambs,” nor grizzly enough to be “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Saw II” aims too high and fails in its most important goal – delivering scares. Make sure you pay the matinee price or just rent the original.