Josh Bell

This sequel to the sleeper horror hit Saw is being released almost a year to the day after its predecessor, which means it was written, shot and edited in an extremely short amount of time, especially for a high-profile Hollywood film. Although that could be perceived as a disadvantage, the truth is that a movie such as Saw II (which completed principal photography in just 25 days) is best put together without too much overthinking—and best consumed the same way. Like the original Saw, the sequel is full of ridiculously elaborate death traps that are gruesome and exciting on their own, but it's built around a thin plot with flat characterization and weak acting.

At least the acting is a step up from the abysmal performances of Cary Elwes and series co-creator Leigh Whannell in the original. Wahlberg is competent if bland as this installment's hero, a troubled cop named Eric Mason who teams up with the original's investigator (Meyer), and in a nicely unconventional move, captures the sadistic killer known as Jigsaw (Bell) within the first few minutes of the movie.

Of course, things are never that simple, and Jigsaw has cooked up a new diabolical plan to keep the cops off his back. He's trapped eight people (up from the original's two) in a booby-trapped house of horrors with only two hours to escape before they're dead. One of these people is Mason's son, while another is a survivor from the original film.

Since the film was produced so quickly, co-creators Whannell and James Wan have reduced roles, with both acting as executive producers and Whannell co-writing the screenplay with director Bousman. The result is, as with most horror sequels, a recapitulation of what made the original successful, only more so. There are more victims, more death traps, more blood and more twists.

More is not necessarily better, but in this case the sequel actually improves on the original in some areas. The death traps are not as shocking the second time, and the characters are even more hastily sketched, but the plot makes a lot more internal sense, and Bell's expanded role, as well as those for the other minor characters from the original, adds some weight to the overall story arc. In the end it's probably a wash, but, unlike most horror sequels, Saw II doesn't exhibit a steep decline in quality from its predecessor. Take that as you will.

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