With the right execution, sequels can be a lot of fun to watch. Whether they raise the stakes or put familiar characters in unfamiliar situations, sequels can be extremely enjoyable. What makes SAW II such a great sequel is that it is integrally connected to the first SAW. It plays out like the second chapter to a book – so intertwined are the two films.
In the opening minutes of SAW II, the Jigsaw killer (Tobin Bell) is captured by police. But it is quickly revealed that even his capture is part of a larger game he is playing. The police, including Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg), quickly learn that Eric’s son, Daniel (Erik Knudson), has been captured by Jigsaw and forced to participate in his deadly game. It’s a race against time as Daniel tries to escape Jigsaw’s grasp while his father and the police work to obtain his location before time runs out.
The juxtaposition between the two plots work seamlessly in SAW II. There’s a wonderful cat-and-mouse quality in the interactions between the subdued Jigsaw and enraged Eric Matthews. As the two go head-to-head, the story shifts back and forth to Daniel Matthews as he struggles to survive Jigsaw’s game. Daniel’s story is more the quintessential SAW plot – he wakes up in a room full of strangers, discovers himself trapped in an unknown location with a time limit for escaping, and finds that he has more in common with the others than he realizes. He teams up with Amanda (Shawnee Smith), a survivor of the first SAW film – which helps to further bring home how connected the two films are. By having the two plots connected between father and son, it creates a great source of tension as the film plays out. Whereas it was difficult to root for the protagonists in the first SAW film, SAW II makes it very easy to root for its protagonists – while also showcasing how flawed they really are.
Jigsaw’s character is given much more range in SAW II. Now that the audience knows his identity, the film uses flashbacks to effectively show how this man could become Jigsaw. The mythos of Jigsaw is expanded in this film to great effect – creating a believable backstory for this vigilante. His motives are deeply explored, and Tobin Bell deserves a ton of credit for bringing this sadistic, twisted character to life.
Much like the original SAW, SAW II is surprisingly light on gore. While this film definitely more of a horror film than the first installment (the thriller aspect of SAW has been completely abandoned here), SAW II leaves its best moments in the imagination of the viewers. In the opening sequence, a man awakens to discover that he is trapped – and the key to releasing him from his trap is behind his eyeball. The man freaks out, raising a scalpel to his eyeball but ultimately he is unable to remove his eye. The scene is so effective because our imaginations allow us to play out the results. Removing the eyeball would be gratuitous and serve no real purpose. In that vein, SAW II succeeds. It doesn’t feel the need to shower its audience with blood and gore. It uses it just sparingly enough to feel horrific.
The first SAW had a very memorable twist ending, and SAW II keeps the twists coming. The film plays out in a very satisfying way, leaving just enough breadcrumbs to hint at the twist – but never reveal it. There’s no twist bigger than discovering the identity of Jigsaw, and SAW II doesn’t try to recreate that moment. Instead, it delivers its own unique twists that are highly effective. SAW II is a worthwhile sequel, moving the story into bold and new directions.