Second verse, same as the first. Well, maybe not exactly...
Detectives Kerry (Dinah Meyer) and Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) are investigating the demise of another victim of the killer known as Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) when they discover something bizarre and unsettling: a personal message to Matthews from Jigsaw himself. Matthews figures out where Jigsaw is holed up, and the detectives attempt to arrest him, but Jigsaw--not unexpectedly--has the upper hand. Turns out the madman has eight new victims, including Matthews's teenage son, trapped inside an abandoned house; the doors of the house will open in three hours, but the nerve gas slowly wafting through the house will kill the captives in two. If they hope to survive, Jigsaw's new playthings must solve the puzzles he has arranged for them and locate the syringes of antidote scattered throughout the house. Jigsaw has conveniently set up a bank of monitors in his hideout, allowing the police to watch his victims' every move. And he has a few choice words for Detective Matthews regarding the cop's personal code of ethics.
First things first: I'm no horror connoisseur. Sure, I've seen my fair share of entries in the genre, but I've hated most of them. Maybe this is a result of having seen Psycho at a very young age; I think it established expectations no subsequent film could possibly reach. And despite the fact that I grew up during the heyday of the Jason and Freddy flicks, I never gave a damn about either (except for the female nudity, that is). And what passes for horror these days certainly hasn't done anything to change my mind. Pasty kids with black hair don't scare me, and I'm sick and tired of seeing vapid stars of CW shows take unfortunate detours. Okay, so what am I getting at here? Well, to paraphrase Montgomery Burns, I know what I hate, and I don't hate the Saw flicks.
I went into the original Saw with more a little hesitation, but came out pleasantly surprised. The advertising made it look, to me at least, as nothing but torture porn. The presence of an above-average cast did nothing to pique my interest, nor did the accolades it received upon release. I didn't actually see it until after the second sequel had hit theaters, and, yes, it ended up being another case of my having to admit I was wrong, but so be it. Anyway, I wasn't sure what to think going into the second movie. The fact that it was being guided by the original creators didn't really mean anything (remember Halloween II?), and its arriving within twelve months of the first smacked of quickie cash-in. Again you're probably wondering what I'm getting at here. Well, against all odds, the sequel works. It's essentially more of the same, but in this case that's a good thing.
Saw II follow more or less adheres to the template established by the original. The actions jumps back and forth between the captives' efforts to get out and the cops' efforts to...well, the time out the cops pretty much just sit back and listen while Jigsaw waxes philosophical about life. Flashbacks don't play as large a role this time around, and I'm a little grateful for that, as I thought the flashbacks were the weakest element of the original; I know they were essential to the plot, but I never thought the filmmakers found a way to smoothly transition into and out of them. As a result of the limited flashbacks, character development for the players of Jigsaw's twisted game is pretty much nonexistent. Aside from learning what they have in common, we really know nothing about them; they're essentially cannon (or trap) fodder, but given the role they play in Jigsaw's plan, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Here's the inevitable question: is this sequel as good as the first movie? No, it's not. First of all, the surprise is missing. As I alluded to above, there was an unexpected ingenuity to the original, a quality which made it easy to overlook some of the movie's flaws. The sequel, to a degree, exhibits the same quality, but this time around I was expecting it, so I didn't give the movie as much margin for error. Also, the traps and puzzles Jigsaw has constructed aren't as cringe-inducing as those of the original. The bits with the gun in the peephole and the cremation oven seem too familiar, for example, but I do have to admit I was squirming like a little girl during the needle pit and glass box sequences. Lastly, in a way the movie plays like a stop-gag measure, tiding us over for the trilogy's last installment (in hopes of preserving what little dignity I have left, we won't go into why). And not to cast aspersions on the effectiveness or quality of the first hour, but it's really only the third act of the movie (a rather bravura third act, if you ask me) that's truly important here. (Then again, I did watch both sequels over the course of a couple of days, so maybe this isn't as noticeable if you spread them out.) But given that the project was rushed into production and originated with a script that was completely unrelated to the franchise, it's amazing it turned as well as it did.
As was the case with the original, the visuals here are grimy, grungy and dirty. The color palette is dominated by garish greens and browns. Bearing that in mind, the disc's 1.78:1 transfer is damned near excellent. Grain is visible on a number of occasions, but this is intentional, unavoidable, or perhaps a bit of both. This isn't the sort of thing you'll want to use when showing off your system, but it does convey the movie's look very well.
Audio is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS-HD 6.1 tracks (note that the DTS track isn't lossless Master Audio). As is generally the case with these flicks, the audio tends to be front heavy until the mayhem kicks in, at which point the entire soundstage is aggressively employed. It's a bit gimmicky, but it works. Dialogue sounds very good, the low end is robust, and the score is nicely represented. There's not a world of difference between the quality of the two tracks, but the DTS does sound a bit smoother and fuller. English and Spanish subtitles are included.
Don't ask me why, but Lionsgate only saw fit to carry over a few of the extras from the two-disc SD release. Considering just how loaded that release was, this is quite disappointing.
Up first is a commentary by director Darren Lynn Bousman, production designer David Hackl and editor Kevin Greutert. This track is in-depth and largely technical, but in a rather engaging manner.
On the other hand, the commentary by executive producer James Wan and writer/executive producer Leigh Whannell is ninety-five minutes of self-deprecation. Funny thing is, it's just as informative as the first track, albeit in a completely different way.
The Scott Tibbs Documentary (14 minutes) is a worthless faux-documentary in which a fictional rock star attempts to discover the truth behind the Jigsaw killings. It's annoying in terms of both execution and content.
In The Story Behind the Story (3 minutes), Wan and Whannell reveal the real-life inspiration for Jigsaw.
Wrapping things up is Gregg Hoffman: In Memoriam (6 minutes), a tribute to the late Saw producer, who died two months after this movie was released.
Good movie, very solid presentation, fantastic...okay, so they skimped on the extras. But based on the movie itself and the technical quality, I'm still recommending this one.