Because sequels are meant to be sure things at the box office, they are not often very innovative. The great majority of second films, even the good ones, are essentially just the notes of the first film played louder and bigger. In one key way, Saw II is actually a bit original, then: it clocks in at a lean 10 minutes shorter than its predecessor. If that sounded like a compliment, I guess it kind of was, but it's the only one I've got.

Almost everything Saw did badly, Saw II and new director Darren Lynn Bousman does worse. Loopy MTV-style cinematography? Yes indeed. Awful acting? Ye gods, this one depends on Donnie fucking Wahlberg as its "name." Dialogue? Um...

Here's an anecdote for you. One (male) character taunts another (female) character with the insult, "the only door you know how to open is between your legs!" This is a terrible line, and if you need me to explain why then you fundamentally don't understand dialogue, please quit reading my blog, in fact please quit reading the internet, because there are quite enough functionally illiterate people around, thank you.

Anyway, that's not the anecdote. The anecdote is that this line was ad-libbed, each variation more vulgar than the preceding, and the crew thought that the quoted version was the best & funniest & most clever. At least, so says the IMDb trivia page, for I assure you that I have a terrifically small interest in the Saw II audio commentary.

The point being, the makes of the film thought that was a good line, and if that doesn't illustrate their relationship to dialogue, I cannot imagine what else could. Also, it goes to show that some of the dialogue is improvised, and so I don't know who's responsible for the most egregious offenses against the language.

That said, this film lacks the "let's talk about what we're doing" characteristic of the first film, and that must be acknowledged. Dammit, that was another compliment.

Bigger! Better! Now there's not just two men in a single room, there's eight people in a locked house! And there's another whole storyline: Detective Eric Matthews (Wahlberg the Lesser) and his team have finally found Jigsaw's (Tobin Bell) lair, only to find that he's captured Matthews's son and put him in the house, and what twisted mind game will Matthews have to play to etc, etc. Overkill, and the two plots are not finessed together very well, with a rather arbitrary hopping from one to the other every now and then. Then comes the inevitable twist that makes a little bit more sense than the first one, and is much more fair to the audience, although given that every decent plot synopsis of Saw III gives the twist to this film away, I can't say that it's much of a surprise.

Beyond question, though, the great big horrible add-on that most typifies what Saw II is about, and what its successor will be about even more, is the film's putative moral viewpoint. Now, Saw, while excessively unpleasant, was a simple little film: psycho killer does arcane shit. Taa-daa! There are some dollops of flavor here and there to the effect that his particular MO is to punish people who aren't living life to the fullest, and this turns out to be related to Jigsaw's terminal medical condition, but that's not a part of the film. It's a gimmick, much in the way that (in the first film, at least) Hannibal Lecter's cannibalism was just a detail, not really important beyond a shorthand for "evil monster."

Tragically, Saw II takes that gimmick and runs with it and turns it into a Thing. Here, Jigsaw is a sort of dark avenging angel, exposing the weakness and folly of man, for almost all of his traps could be almost laughably overcome if the people caught in them weren't constantly at each other's throats, selfish and whinging and almost unbearably stupid. It's worth noting that Bousman had a script for a non-Saw project that was deemed "too Saw-ish" until Whannell came on board to punch it up; I think it's obvious that Bousman had the house scenario, and Whannell added the police framework and the conversations with Jigsaw that make this film not merely an explication of his theories, but a very sick and ugly endorsement of them. The men and women caught in Jigsaw's house are cartoon characters, behaving in every possible case in the most venal way, because in every possible case venality is what keeps the plot ticking along. If it were possible for these people to stop for five minutes and talk quietly, Saw II would be over in a quarter of the time, and the audience would not get to see the still ungory-gore.

I don't want to seem like a ghoul for harping on the gore in these films, but there's an important reason why I do: in a slasher or splatter film, the gore is held to be "cool." Your mileage may vary. But in a Saw-style torture porno, where there is not much gore and it is not very cool, the fetish object for the audience is not the elaborate make-up, but the torment of the characters. It's the difference between "alright, he got split down the middle!" and "alright, if he doesn't cut off his leg, his child will suffocate!" One is mostly harmless fun (although I am aware that some of the fans of the genre respond to it in ways that are not so fun, but that's true of many things), attentive to the technical side of filmmaking, one is quite hideous and morally unacceptable.

And with Saw II, the series officially begins to endorse the bent, immoral - I will not even say "amoral" now - view of Jigsaw that these are worthless people who get what's coming to them. That is a foul opinion to hold, even for thin and poorly-acted characters like these, and a quick spin through the IMDb user reviews for this film is a terrifically demoralising task, unless you like feeling hopeless.

Reviews in this series
Saw (Wan, 2004)
Saw II (Bousman, 2005)
Saw III (Bousman, 2006)
Saw IV (Bousman, 2007)
Saw V (Hackl, 2008)
Saw VI (Greutert, 2009)
Saw 3D (Greutert, 2010)
Jigsaw (Spierig Brothers, 2017)
Spiral: From the Book of Saw (Bousman, 2021)