The director talks about making a sequel work, creating horror on screen and his next project

Darren Lynn Bousman is an admitted horror movie “fanboy.” So it should come as no surprise that he jumped at the chance to direct Saw II. This film, a sequel to the wildly popular Saw, picks up where the first one left off.

Jigsaw, the diabolical criminal who captured the imagination of horror fans in the 2004 hit Saw, returns in this equally bloody sequel. Eric Mason (Donnie Wahlberg) is a police detective who, after discovering the aftermath of a particularly gruesome murder, is convinced that Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is up to his ugly tricks again.

Related: Chris Rock's Saw Reboot Begins Shooting Next Week

Mason's hunch turns out to be correct, but the master criminal proves to be disconcertingly easy to capture. As it happens, Jigsaw is eager to be put behind bars in order to throw the authorities off his trail as he once again punishes people who in his eyes have transgressed the boundaries of acceptable moral behavior.

Recently, Bousman sat down to talk with MovieWeb about creating a sequel to the first Saw, conveying horror on screen and thinking up new ways to kill people.

Since you wrote (with Leigh Whannell) and directed Saw II, what sequel pitfalls did you consciously try to avoid?

Darren Lynn Bousman: Not making it suck. (Laughs). It’s hard because there’s this stigma around sequels that... most sequels... there’s a handful of sequels that are different. You’ve got your Aliens, your Terminator 2's, most sequels lose the audience. They cash in on the bigger... more blood, that whole thing, but there’s no story there.

So the first thing we tried to do is we said, “Okay, get rid of the violence, get rid of the blood, forget about all of that. Does the story work? Do we have a cool story at the core of this thing?” Once we determined if we had a cool story, then we said, “Okay, lets put the violence in. Lets put the blood in, lets put all that in.” I think number one, for Leigh and I, it was just does this story work?

Acting, number two. It was just making sure we had a really good cast; really good actors. And not try and make some second rate sequel but to actually make a worthy follow-up. To actually make this sequel exist in the world of Saw.

As you were making a sequel to a film that took a lot of people by surprise, did you hold the film in the same reverence as the fans? Or, did you see the sequel as a way to put your own stamp on the movie?

Darren Lynn Bousman: You know, I’m a fanboy myself, on any kind of movie like this. On horror or sci-fi, so it was like a dream come true. Putting the sequel and a fan of the horror film... they could have gotten anyone to direct this movie. When you have a movie as successful as Saw I, you can pretty much go to anyone and have them direct the sequel. And they gave it to a fan which I think is a great thing to do.

So I looked at it as a fan. “What would I want to see if I was sitting in the theater, a year to the date after Saw I being released, what did I care about seeing?” So I think that’s how we worked this entire movie. I directed it as a fan.

Was it ever a problem coming up with ways for Jigsaw to get his victims or was that one of the funnest parts?

Darren Lynn Bousman: No, that’s is one of the easiest parts is how to kill somebody. I’m a sick individual and so is Leigh and James. So I think coming up with new and interesting ways to kill somebody is not the hardest. The hardest thing to do is to make... people become desensitized to blood. You can kill someone and murder them and splatter their blood, but after awhile it becomes monotonous and boring.

So I think the biggest trick came from how do we keep the audience interested? It’s mixing. It’s mixing the blood, the violence, the action, the storytelling, the drama all together.

Like the first movie, Saw II is one that constantly raises the stakes, especially with the violence that happens to the characters. Were you ever worried that you might have something really gnarly happen early on in the film and then not be able to follow that up with something bigger later in the movie?

Darren Lynn Bousman: No, I think we all knew where Saw II was gonna go. We all knew how it was gonna end. It’s kind of hard to beat the Xavier (Franky G) scene at the end, in my opinion. It’s pretty rough stuff. The other part is, people go into a sequel with a lot of skepticism. And so we had to punch them in the balls in the very first scene. To let them know you’re back in the world of Saw. This is what we’re doing. So I think that was crucial to us.

And then it was just pacing it out. We wanted each death to get more and more violent. So we went from the gunshot, to the burning, to the needle room. Which the needle room is just horrific. To, I think, the wrist slit room, which is just hard to watch. A lot of people found that scene very hard to watch. And then ending with this horrible neck cutting and throat slitting, which... I see what you’re saying, but I don’t think in this thing that was that much of an issue for us.

Saw II is a very contained film. Essentially, it’s like watching two, one act plays unfold at the same time.

Darren Lynn Bousman: Right.

Was it tough balancing the horror elements with the performance elements of a movie like Saw II? Was horror used as a way to make the audience not get too comfortable?

Darren Lynn Bousman: Yeah, one of the things I wanted to do was always put the audience... not alienate the audience but push them away. Not ever let them feel comfortable. We did that with drones and music and the quick... never letting you focus on any one thing for a long period of time. That’s a device. Some of the people that don’t like these types of films, don’t like the quick cuts or the quick camera movements, but it’s a device. It’s supposed to make you feel uncomfortable. I think it really serves it’s purpose. It makes the audience feel uncomfortable.

I think that was part of the initial plan for making this movie is to always... never let the audience feel safe. To show them that this is not a safe place. That something was just a little bit off and that was one of the conventions we tried to put throughout all of Saw II.

As a director, what do you think is the most effective way to convey horror on screen?

Darren Lynn Bousman: Reactions. Let me say this, outside of Saw, I think the best way to do it is through reactions. If you can show someone’s horrified reaction to something, and you see the emotional despair that they’re in... nothing can touch that. No amount of violence, no amount of killing or ripping out entrails can effect that. A lot of people say, “Oh, this movie was so bloody. This movie was so violent.” If you watch the movie again, if you watch the furnace scene, if you even watch the needle room scene, there’s no violence in those scenes at all. It’s screams and it’s reaction shots.

Now, people become disgusted because they’re hearing screams and they’re seeing people crying... but like in the furnace scene for example, you’re not seeing anything. You’re not seeing any blood, you’re not seeing any skin bubble up, you’re just seeing people crying. And the same thing with the needle room scene. You see Shawnee Smith in the pit for I think forty seconds? And the other three and a half minutes of the scene is just people reacting to her in the pit.

So, I think that’s one of these stronger conventions that can be used in a horror movie to show the horror elements.

Lastly, what do you have coming up next?

Darren Lynn Bousman: There’s a couple of things. I’m working right now with Dimension and The Weinstein Company on a new project. Which... it’s another horror film but a much different type of horror film. I can’t go into a lot about it but I can say it’s probably the most disturbed I’ve ever been reading a script. I can say that. I don’t think I’ve ever been this disturbed after reading a script. That appears to be the next thing that I’m going to be working on.

Saw II comes out on DVD February 14th, 2006 through Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

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Evan Jacobs