Saw II

Year: 2005
Production Co: Twisted Pictures
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Producer: Mark Burg/Gregg Hoffman/Oren Koules
Writer: Darren Lynn Bousman/Leigh Whannell
Cast: Tobin Bell, Donnie Wahlberg, Dina Meyer, Shawnee Smith, Franky G, Lyriq Bent

A sequel to the 2004 horror hit was inevitable, but Lionsgate and incoming director Darren Lynn Bousman had a secret weapon that's unappreciated all these years later (12 as I write this), the Saw series having been seen as descending into ridiculousness, pointless gore and diminishing returns.

The secret weapon is that he and writer Leigh Whannell (the co-star of and half the creative brains trust of the series along with partner James Wan) didn't do what so many sequels (everything from the Friday the Thirteenth to Jurassic World) have done and just remake the original.

They decided to expand on the story of the Jigsaw killer, all while sticking closely to the thematic and aesthetic elements that made the original film such a hit. In just one exmaple, there isn't just a grimy industrial setting because it's scary, it's because John Kramer (Tobin Bell) was an engineer who owned a large factory.

When cops Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) and Allison Kerry (Dina Meyer) stumble across the latest in what seems to be Jigsaw's victims, there's a message for Eric, Jigsaw targeting him in particular. He wants nothing to do with it but agrees to accompany Kerry and the SWAT team to the factory they've traced Kramer to.

Once there, in another hallmark of the series, Jigsaw is way ahead of all of them. Even though he doesn't put up a fight, weakened by his cancer, he calls their attention to eight monitors that show his latest crop of victims in a trap. Among them is Matthews' son Daniel and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) the former addict and sole survivor of the infamous jawtrap from the first film.

Kramer won't release them, but tells Matthews all he has to do is sit and talk for awhile and his son will be fine. While they watch, the victims are informed that the house is filling up with a deadly nerve agent and that they have a couple of hours to figure out how to escape before they all die.

Matthews – vengeful, angry and everything you expect a worried father and a cop to be - wants none of it, and it's the first time one of Jigsaw's signature characterisations is really cemented; he does what he says he will, if you take him literally you'll be all right, and he doesn't actually kill anyone. The reason people find themselves in this traps throughout the series (hubris, malice, obsession, etc) is usually what sees them dispatched so brutally.

When Matthews finally runs out of patience, Kramer plays the first trump card. The victims in the house are all people Matthews framed to make sure they get time and if the truth comes out, it will be paid for with his son's life.

And all the while, the eight people in the boobytrapped house see their numbers depleted because of their own selfishness, haughtiness and refusal to work constructively, and when the truth about one of Jigsaw's seemingly cryptic instructions is revealed, they turn on each other, the fearsome Xavier (Franky G) hunting his fellow survivors down to work towards his escape.

When they watch him set upon Daniel on the monitors, Matthews freaks out, laying into Kramer and half killing him, virtually kidnapping him from the rest of the cops and forcing him to show Matthews where the house is so he can free his son.

When they get there, the first of many bombshells is revealed back on the video monitors, and Jigsaw's carefully laid plans see Matthews ensnared in a very familiar bathroom, complete with Adam's (Leigh Whannell) crusty corpse rotting away at one end, still chained. Hot on the heels of that comes the next twist and biggest reveal of the series. Amanda, after escaping from the jawtrap, saw how she'd been wasting her life and decided to turn it around, working with Kramer to show people what's truly important. As he's become sicker, he's instructed her on building and setting up the traps his victims find themselves in.

Saw II might be one of the purest examples of what a sequel is supposed to be. It's got the familiar elements (scruffy police detectives, grimy locales, bloody murder, traps, the iconography of Billy the puppet), the same production design and the same texture of the original but it expands and continues the story way beyond the original tale. Whether you're a fan of torture porn or not (and it's easy to forget how tame the original was compared to the rest of the series), you can't discount that Saw became – more than the traps and the deaths – about the storytelling.

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