Saw II

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006 Horrorthon Posts / Horrorthon Reviews

Very clever indeed. This definitely kept me guessing until the end, and (unlike its predecessor) was put together with a cinematic flair that actually justified a lot of its more garish features (like those stacatto montages that octopunk complained about so hilariously). I’m glad somebody decided to just write James Wan a check, thank him kindly, and then escort him from the premises and bring in a professional director, because the filmmaking is much snappier and more alert and the difference is clear immediately.

The Saw movies (so far) are fun but don’t have much depth, which is too bad, since they’re overtly trying to convey an idea. I don’t necessarily agree with octopunk in his scathing dismissal of Jigsaw’s purposes and methods: the man has a sadistic streak, obviously, but his underlying thinking is reasonably sound, in my opinion. In round two, his “traps” lack the precision and clarity of the ones we saw last time, but I think that’s clearly because you’re supposed to zoom back to a wider view and understand the grotesque trick that he and his new protégé are playing on Detective Matthews.

(We don’t do “spoiler warnings” here on Horrorthon, right? I certainly hope not, because I’ve been “spilling the beans” left and right.)

As I mentioned, I don’t believe these movies to have much depth, which is why they tend to evaporate in the mind like bloody cotton candy mere hours after you’ve seen them. I think the real problem is a rather insurmountable debt to David Fincher (which Saw can’t overcome any more than countless sci-fi movies like Outland and Event Horizon never migrate beyond the margins of the Ridley Scott material they’re mimicking). Octo pointed out that Saw is built out from the Tyler Durden gun-to-the-head sequence in Fight Club; this film draws its entire essence from the final twenty minutes of Se7en, which is too bad, because (just like Peter Hyams is no Ridley Scott) these people are not Fincher, and cannot imbue the material with the same majestic savagery and existential nihilism as Fincher’s movies have.

The comparison is especially unkind to Donny Wahlberg, who, I think, is very good in the movie, but he’s burdened with the problem of not being Brad Pitt, who (as I’m saying) already played exactly this role and did it so well that nothing Wahlberg does can possibly eclipse Pitt’s searing performance. (“What’s in the box?“) Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that, but there’s only one Brad Pitt and Wahlberg ain’t him.

Other points:

1) As good as Wahlberg is, Dina Meyer is awful. She’s obviously kept herself sharp-faced (as all Hollywood women must) but she’s no better here than she was in Starship Troopers and her huffa-puffa acting weakened her sequences considerably.

2) Some of the traps don’t make sense. I lost track of all the hidden syringes; we never find out what’s in the first safe (“What’s in the safe?“); the concept of piecing together a lock combination from seven or eight digits makes no sense (there are a million permutations); nobody takes the antidote; the big huge guy turns into a raving maniac and stops making any sense (his desire to kill the others is incoherent); and, in general, the scheme lacks the precision of the similar business in the first movie.

3) Like I said, the “twists” are terrific.

4) With the exception of Ms. Meyer, all the actors are good. I particularly liked Glenn Plummer (“the black guy”) but I’ve liked him ever since Speed. Also, the Italian-looking girl is hot.

5) I forgot to mention Cube, another movie that this one resembles.

6) What’s the point of the oven trap? What can you possibly do besides get inside and get cooked? And what was the deal with that fantastic graffito of a smirking devil next to that valve? Or am I missing the point entirely?

7) Somebody is going to have to sit me down and explain in simple terms what the hell the deal is with the room in Part I. Why is the guy who wrote the movie dead and mummified in there? I thought he prevailed in the end (and the script wasn’t that bad!). Why is there another dead body in the center of the room? Why does everybody end up getting into the bathtub?

I’m picking on the movie but I certainly found it watchable and engaging. You have to understand I’m not used to the “torture film” genre (if there is such a thing) so I may be expecting more than can be delivered. I’m definitely looking forward to the third one (although I’ll miss Tobin Bell) and I have to give the franchise credit for intelligently piecing the chapters of the story together. Fun stuff, like I said, but fairly weightless, and less intellectually engaging than it might have been in the hands of more accomplished artists.