Stevi Costa is bored by Saw II and wonders about the budgeting and real estate technicalities when building a murder house.
It’s Halloween again, which means it’s time for me to re-view the next entry in the Saw series! My husband tells me this one might be his favorite Saw movie, and that one of the reasons he likes it is because it wasn’t originally intended to be a Saw movie. It was just a script director Darren Lynn Bousman had lying around that he could never get made, and so after the success of the first film, he and Leigh Wannell doctored it to make it fit the franchise. The story for this Saw film is that a cop, Donnie Wahlberg, is being tested by Jigsaw, who is dying of cancer and is “cooperating” with the police. What Cop Wahlberg doesn’t know is that Jigsaw has kidnapped his juvenile delinquent son and has placed him in the game inside a warehouse with a bunch of other ex-cons who have been burned by cops . . . some of them specifically by Cop Wahlberg. This is all revealed to be an elaborate game not perpetrated by the Jigsaw we have come to know as Tobin Bell, but by his disciple Amanda – the final girl from the first film who embeds herself in the game in this one. This final reveal is not as cool as the final reveal from the first film, as it struck me on this viewing as very obvious. Jigsaw would never make someone who survived his game play again, even if Amanda had, as she said, “stopped being good” to herself. Amanda’s goal is to punish Cop Wahlberg for locking her up on an erroneous drug charge, and embedding herself in the game with Wahlberg’s son is a plot to lure Cop Wahlberg to a spooky abandoned house and begin to exact her revenge.
In my re-view of the first entry into the Saw series, I applauded its loopy narrative and multiple storytelling perspectives. I noted “these interlocking stitches of narrative go to show that Saw, as an experimental, low-budget horror film, is anything but linear, and these temporal, spatial, and narrative disruptions make it much easier for viewers to invest in the bottle narrative of the two men trapped in the dingy bathroom, being tasked with death.” But what’s both interesting about Saw II and a narrative problem for the film is that it’s a bottle narrative without the interlocking narrative structure to make the bottle story engaging. I found myself pretty bored by Saw II, which is weird considering its stark contrast to the first Saw should make it interesting to watch. It’s bogged down, however, by ill-formed characters that we never really get to know. What works for me about the original Saw is its inherent sense of character drama. Two men trapped in a room, waiting for death, allows for an in-depth character study. Seven strangers, reduced to stereotype and devoid of depth and characterization, waiting to be picked off one by one, is pretty boring. I suppose I should credit Saw II for avoiding typical horror movie character tropes here, but nothing about these flimsy characters seems subversive, just lazy writing.
Here are some of the characters you meet in Amanda’s game: Cop Wahlberg’s son, Amanda herself, a hothead macho asshole named Xavier, some blonde woman apparently named Laura, a hot girl called Addison, a dude named Gus, some dude named Michael, some dude named Jonas, and a tweaker named Obi. I actually had to look up all these names because I don’t remember anyone but Obi and Amanda saying their names in the film. All of these folks have somehow been wronged by the law, which is the connecting thread among them. Most of them, as I mentioned, have some specific connection to Cop Wahlberg. This is notable only because it marks Saw’s first entry into an attempt at social commentary, basically amounting to the claim: “The law harms those most vulnerable and in need of its protection.” But there’s nothing in Amanda’s game that teaches a lesson to these ex-cons. She’s just using them as pawns to get to Cop Wahlberg, and that’s not only pretty fucked up, but also denies the film its ability to have any larger stakes than just the personal for Amanda and for Cop Wahlberg. That I couldn’t remember any of these characters names, or virtually anything they do in the film other than a couple of noteworthy deaths, is a major problem, though. Who are these people? Why should a viewer care that some injustice has been done to them? In some ways, the viewers are forced to see these people as disposable as Amanda sees them. And if I really meditate on that, that’s meaningful. But if I don’t, I’m just bored and wondering why Saw II just sucked away 90 minutes of my life without providing one ounce of the joy of the first film.
I suppose if there are any ounces of joy at all it lies in a couple of good gore moments. The bait kill at the beginning with the informant who just can’t dig a key out of his eyeball in time is a pretty good replication of Amanda’s bear trap-on-the-face scene in the first film. It’s also very satisfying when some middle class white dude within the game immediately disobeys a female character telling him not to do something and then takes a bullet to the eyeball. It is uncomfortable to see macho motherfucker Xavier throw Amanda into the pit of needles. It is satisfying to see Xavier cut the identifying number off of his own neck rather than possibly turning his back on Amanda. It is then immensely satisfying to watch Cop Wahlberg’s son slice Xavier’s throat with the actual saw from the original film.
But I otherwise found little fun in this entry into the Saw series.
Who even are the other cops in this film? They are even less developed as characters than the ex-cons in the spooky house.
How much does it cost to rent a house in which you plan to murder a ton of people? Do you bother to rent it, or do you just assert squatter’s rights?
Also: how does one budget to retrofit a house for murder?
Also: how does Jigsaw finance all of his games? Does he have a patron somewhere we don’t know about?
This entry into the Saw series is pretty much the worst escape room game ever played.