Last year, at approximately the exact same time of this writing, I was sitting in a bar, drinking Jack and Coke, trying to wrap my brain about the phenomenal film a friend and I just saw, Saw. Normally, after I see a flick, I'd be strolling on home to write my review on whatever I saw that day, but Saw just totally warped my already-warped mind. So, does this year's sequel, Saw II, lack the punch and insanity that would drive me to normalcy, and home to write this review? Well, I do have a whiskey and Coke within reach, at this moment... This sequel lives up to the hype, upping the ante in every way, but equaling the vigor and madness that made the first Saw so amazing. Ahh, glorious whiskey, how do I need thee right now...
The flick starts out right where we left off, with a man stuck in a room alone, with this elaborate skull-sized Venus Fly Trap latched to his head, and he needs to do the unthinkable in order for him to live. The man was an informant for Eric Mason, played by Donnie Wahlberg who by his voice alone is a dead ringer for Bruce Willis in the flick's early scenes. After the informant fails at his task, Mason is called on, after a brief bit of family strife between him and his son, to confirm that it was his informant that was dead. After a cryptic message at the scene, and some prodding from a fellow detective (Dina Meyer) who has followed the Jigsaw killer and is convinced this is his work, Mason joins the case. They discover where Jigsaw is holed up and the come in to take him down, when they realize that the game has just begun: 8 strangers are trapped in a room, one being Mason's son, and, of course, it's up to Mason to ensure the well-being of his only son.
The acting here isn't anything spectacular; no breakthrough performances or little gold men will be handed out for acting here. But the thing is, while their performances aren't phenomenal, they're accurate, portraying how real people would surely act in this bizarre situation. The critics that attacked the acting in the first flick, and likely in this one too, were looking for dramatics over accuracy, theater over realism. While some flicks demand theatrics and for actors to transcend their characters, this one simply demands that the characters act and react to this ghastly situation the way any average Joe would do so if he were in it, and they truly succeed at it. I'd have to say that Shawnee Smith, the sole returning member of the first flick, gives the best performance, enhancing her previous character giving us another bridge from original to sequel. The performance I disliked the most would have to be Dina Meyer's, which was a tad over the top at times and was way too similar to her take-charge character in Starship Troopers. Still, the acting as a whole flows very nicely, most likely due to the phenomenal script.
Leigh Whannell, co-star and co-writer of the first flick, took on the writing duties with the new director Darren Lynn Bousman. The new writer-director didn't slow things down at all, including the shooting schedule which was a meager 25 days, just above the original's 18 day shooting schedule, facts which are just astounding in itself. Actually, he did slow things down, even though this flick is about 9 minutes shorter than the original, it is more drawn out and feels a lot longer than it really is. This script, and the first one as well, could be a case study in how to write a horror film. The pace is perfect, the dialogue isn't too showy, but to the point and the plot chugs right along, dropping subtle clues that savvy "I saw that coming" types would surely decipher, but are only a red herring to the true twist at the end. Like M. Night Shyamalan, Whannell and Bousman (and Wan from the first flick) are masters at leaving bread crumbs of clues for you to find, knowing you'll come to a foregone conclusion, then totally turning it on your ear with the stuff you had forgotten about. It's just masterful writing, folks.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman appears, at first glance, to have a bit of Michael Bsy in him, with a lot of stop-and-go quick shots, going above, below and around characters at a frantic pace. But the helmer knows how to switch gears rather well, knowing when to speed it up and when to take it down a notch, using subtle techniques just as well as his speedy ones. While the first one seemed like a slow, creepy drive down a dark road, Bousman's sequel feels more a series of high-speed chases, brought to a halt then sped back up again, and I really loved the feel and pace of this flick.
Saw II is a movie that, like its predecessor, deals with humanity and the limits it can be pushed to, if taken for granted. It's subtle and creepy, shocking and gory, dark and phenomenal. Oh yeah, and it's one of the best movie's I've seen this year. While I don't normally need a movie to persuade me to have a drink, I need a few after this one, not to wallow in the experience of seeing a terrible movie, but to dull my senses after the horrific and spectacular onslaught of incredible filmmaking and mind-twisting terror.