Following the seminal and culture-shifting Saw would never be an easy ride, and for a sequel to work it would need to take the story in a new direction instead of rehashing the same old scenario. This film, originally written as a standalone horror but later adapted into a Saw follow-up, does exactly what it needs to and then some, upping the ante and presenting a truly horrific vision of the deranged expectations of the Jigsaw killer. It is brutal, bloody, but not entirely necessary.
I have issues with sequels in general, as usually they appear after a standalone film was successful enough to warrant further exploitation of its intellectual property. On some occasions, sequels feel cheap and exploitative, whereas on others they add to the overarching tale being told. Saw II sits somewhere between, however it leans more towards the latter. The expansion to the Saw mythology, and increasing of the stakes, changes the dynamic enough that Saw II just about justifies its own existence.
The premise is an expanded version of the first film, in a way, but whilst that involved two men locked in a room, here we have several people trapped in a large house. Each room within contains a trap designed for each of the occupants, and so they take on their tasks one-by-one until there are very few left alive.
In the middle of the house is Shawnee Smith as a recovered drug addict who featured briefly in the original Saw. She has been brought back due to bad behaviour, it seems, and so she becomes key to solving the various games the group are presented with. Also present is a menacing Frankie G as a truly reprehensible psychopath and he plays the role with verve. Along with the various other unpleasant characters in the house there is a teenage boy played by Erik Knudsen. He, it turns out, is the son of a police detective played by Donnie Wahlberg. The predominant outside-of-the-house sequences involve Wahlberg’s confrontation with the Jigsaw killer, played with terrific charm by the consistently-interesting Tobin Bell.
Directorial duties are taken over by Darren Lynn Bousman, who also had a hand in the script, along with original director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell. The narrative links to the first film unexpectedly as the signature twists begin to unfold, and as with Saw there are plenty of them. This is a levelling-up of the initial idea, with more violence and gore and horror than before. Without Saw II there would not be the ever-failing later sequels, but also without it there would not be next few which, like this, were enjoyable horror trash. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of blood from time-to-time.