2006, Movie, R, 107 mins


An improvement over the tedious SAW II (2005), this second sequel to the surprise 2004 hit still features the series' trademark gruesome "games" but shifts the focus to the relationships among the characters. You wouldn't know it from the opening scene, though, which simply reiterates SAW's then-novel dilemma: a man in a fetid bathroom, chained by the ankle to a pipe, must choose between brutally mutilating himself to escape or dying gruesomely — been there, screamed that. But here things get progressively more interesting. Philosophical serial killer Jigsaw appears to have struck again, but Kerry (Dina Meyer), who investigated the earlier crimes, isn't so sure — Jigsaw always devised tests from which his carefully chosen victims could escape, though they had to be willing to inflict horrible damage on themselves or others to do so. But there was no winning for this latest victim, who was challenged to rip a dozen pieces of metal connected to chains from his bleeding flesh before a bomb detonated, because the door was welded shut. Deranged though the fatally ill Jigsaw may be, Kerry understands that his motive was always to push victims to such extremes that survivors will truly understand the value of life. By the time she learns why his MO has changed, it's too late for depressed Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh) and for Jeff (Angus Macfadyen:), who's consumed with the desire to heap vengeance on the driver who ran down his son. Lynn finds herself face-to-face with Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), who's near death from a brain tumor, and his acolyte, Amanda (Shawnee Smith), who survived one of his tests. Fitted with a collar that will detonate if Jigsaw's vital signs flatline, Lynn must perform brain surgery under primitive circumstances. Jeff, meanwhile, is negotiating a series of life-or-death challenges that force him to forgive those involved in his child's demise or watch them die brutally. Screenwriter Leigh Whannell (who also reprises his role from the first film in a flashback that reveals previously unexplored details of his trial by torture) alternates between Jeff's ordeal (the putrid pig puree sequence is especially grotesque) and the psychological struggle that develops as Jigsaw bonds with Lynn, enraging the volatile Amanda. The emphasis on character is a welcome change, but the principle of diminishing returns still holds. SAW had surprise on its side; the sequels have to make do with nastiness. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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