With their first feature, the horror movie Saw, Australian filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell came up with an unexpected US hit: in the light of this, a sequel was inevitable, but it comes to us courtesy of another writer and director.
Darren Lynn Bousman had already written a script that apparently had some striking similarities to Saw: it was revamped, with some input from Whannell, to become Saw II, with Bousman at the helm.
Various elements of the first film reappear. The character known as Jigsaw returns, but, rather than being a mysterious mastermind behind the scenes, setting up scenarios that pose sadistic life-and-death choices for his victims, he’s a visible character (played by Tobin Bell) who makes his appearance early in the film. An embodiment of death, for various reasons, he’s still preparing those killer conundrums, but with more people in his sights.
This is one of the problems for the new film: too many characters. Nine people are locked inside a house, into which a deadly nerve gas is being released. There are clues that should help them escape, as well as assorted booby traps that will kill them in various nasty ways.
These people spend a lot of time bickering: they have something in common, although they don’t know, initially, what it is.
But we never find out much about them, and they don’t make much of an impact: the film seems at times like a psychotic Big Brother with a bunch of dud housemates.
Alongside this scenario there’s a linked story: a frantic search for the location of the house, headed by a tough, jaded police officer (Donnie Wahlberg) who discovers that he has a personal stake in the matter. He does his best (in repetitive fashion) to get information from the manipulative Jigsaw, in scenes that feel dreary and rote – even though Bell does his best to give Jigsaw a deadpan creepy edge.
Saw had a few things going for it. It was a remorseless, fairly ingenious concoction that revelled in the artifice of Jigsaw’s gruesome set-ups and the survival problems they posed.
But this film feels diffused and messy, switching awkwardly between the disconcertingly inept police operation and the booby-trapped household, where no one seems to have too many bright ideas about how to escape.
It never really builds much in the way of tension, and its scenes of confrontation are often flabby or predictable: the only energy in the film is around Jigsaw’s nasty contraptions, with their fiendish, punitive inevitability.