Film

Saw II (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

'Overkill' doesn't begin to describe it.


Saw II

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Cast: Donnie Wahlberg, Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Erik Knudsen, Franky G
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Lions Gate
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-10-28

Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) returns, this time as self-styled family counselor. It seems that Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) is not paying proper attention to his troubled son Daniel (Erik Knudsen), and so the quirky serial murderer takes a moralistic interest. As before, Jigsaw points out to anyone who will listen that he doesn't actually kill anyone, just sets up his victims and then offers them "choices," to do as he likes to point out, never actually kills anyone, only gives his victims "choices." Their icky deaths are their own fault.

Such reasoning was the premise of Saw, a surprise hit that recycled hoary psycho killer conventions to extra-splattery effect ("There will be blood"). Saw II faces the daunting prospect of repeating the shock of the spare original, which was shot essentially in one horrible room where prisoners were given to think they had to saw off their own limbs to escape (the few scenes shot elsewhere were least compelling). The second film opens out its scope -- such as it is -- to include other spaces and more characters. And so the lack of shock is irrelevant: after all, sequels repeat, expand, and make more noise by definition. And besides, the opening weekend for Saw II was relatively and ominously huge: $31.7 million, compared to an $18.3 million first weekend for the first incarnation. All of which goes to show that it hardly matters what anyone has to say about Saw II.

And so: Jigsaw appears means to teach Eric a lesson, imagining that his own terminal cancer grants him moral authority (it's always the way with self-loving serial killers: they think they're anointed). As he puts it, his own looming death provides meaningful context for his "work": "Those who do not appreciate life do not deserve life." He makes a big deal of breathing into his oxygen mask and acting feeble when the cops "discover" him in his latest lair, where he's surrounded by monitors and gadgets, grim reminders of that "work." Here he means to instruct his more or less captive audience in what's "missing" from his dead victims, "a vital piece of the human instinct to survive." Who knew instincts had pieces?

Eric arrives on this scene feeling pretty wasted and miserable himself. As you've learned by now, he's been riding a desk since his own coppish corruption was exposed five years ago. Such official sanction isn't enough for Jigsaw, though: he's gathered together an assortment of Matthews' rigged-evidence victims, recently released from prison and put them in a booby-trapped house with young Daniel. He's also arranged to have every room monitored by video camera, the feeds available for viewing by the cops, in Jigsaw's lair.

As always, Jigsaw ("Call me John," he tells Eric) is chatty in the extreme, explaining his games far beyond the point of interest. So, surrounded by cops in SWAT gear (including Eric's perky ex-partner Kerry [Dina Meyer]), he explains, and then explains some more, the game has "simple" rules: Eric has to listen to him. Eric has to get him a glass of water. Eric has to own up to his bad deeds. Of course, Eric can't quite manage all these demands, especially as he's provoked by those shots of his kid chocking on toxic gas in that house full of bloodthirsty criminals and junkies.

They're not exactly getting along, either, as they have their own set of game rules to figure out, and with one of them dying from a rule broken every few minutes, they're not exactly becoming more patient. Xavier (Jonny Zero's Franky G) and Jonas (Glenn Plummer) argue incessantly over who's in charge, or at least who has the best idea. X goes for the sledgehammer approach, sort of literally, using a baseball bat outfitted with nails to look like a mace to slam through doors and menace his fellow prisoners. Joshua, by contrast, seeks the most copasetic route, even as everyone else thinks he's a wuss, thinking too hard when thinking seems beside the point.

Among the several girls in this game is Amanda (Shawnee Smith), returned from Saw and seemingly trying not to be a heroin addict anymore, seemingly terrified by the fact that she' been hauled back into the game because she beat it the first time out. She's something of a whiner, and fond of narrating tedious woe-is-me flashbacks, so when X dumps her into a hole full of needles to make her "face her fear" and oh yes, dig around for the key that will open some door, she's not exactly looking like a pitiful victim. More like an unsympathetic victim, one you wouldn't mind being rid of.

In fact, none of the players in this game -- especially the tragically dim-witted girls Laura (Beverley Mitchell) and Addison (Emmanuelle Vaugier) -- is particularly appealing. To be fair, they also have to endure Jigsaw's incessant riddling and explaining, not to mention his insistence that their bad decisions and gruesome deaths appear on closed-circuit tvs. As in the first movie, the game is multiply layered and not nearly so clever as the villain imagines, comprising all manner of bloody abuses, including a gun rigged to shoot through an inquisitive eyeball, a furnace that locks down and burns up the silly fellow who's followed instructions to crawl into it. Body after body is weakened by fear and gas, then penetrated in some terrible way.

The focus on sadistic pleasures might raise questions about audiences' desire to "watch," but even more than in the first film -- where the economy of the single room's psychic tortures was remarkable, at least until the family got involved -- it's hard to care who gets what punishment or how Jigsaw plans everything to lead to the expected big twist finale. "Overkill" doesn't begin to describe it.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image