I should probably back up and mention that we watched Saw last week. Saw got rave reviews when it came out from one of my former roommates, but he's the type who describes good movies as "crazy," "so messed up," and "hardcore," and the list of his favorite movies is all sci-fi and places some of the best films ever made on the same level as the most abysmal crap I've ever seen. I thought Saw looked potentially interesting, but I wasn't excited enough to rent it, let alone see it in a theater. I figured I'd let somebody else buy it or rent it or I'd catch the it on TV (I imagine it's basically the same since the FCC doesn't seem to care about violence).
As I said, we ended up seeing it last week. I wasn't impressed. Saw had been advertised as an über-gory splatterfest, but ultimately it's neither -- it's just Cary Elwes writhing around on a filthy bathroom floor (oh, and eventually he cuts off his own foot). How the mighty have fallen. I don't particularly care about the lack of gore -- it's not like I need to be desensitized any further -- but that's really all Saw had to offer. The plot is a Jigsaw puzzle (Jigsaw is capitalized 'cuz that's the killer's nickname (I'm so clever)) assembled from the contrivances of modern horror/suspense films.
Some guy with too much free time and tenuous motivations is designing murders so that they are committed by his victims. Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell (co-writer of the screenplay) wake up in the aforementioned filthy restroom with a corpse between them, and are informed via tape recording that Elwes' wife and kid die unless he kills Whannell's character in the next few hours. Danny Glover and Some Other Guy Whose Name I Don't Know are cops who are trying to track Jigsaw down. Stuff happens. Blood is shed. Nothing is what it seems, but I've seen the same stuff done so many times before that I just didn't care. It's really too bad -- Saw is well made, attractive (in its grungy, visceral way), and well-(though possibly over-)acted.
Saw II is more of the same. More characters, more blood, etc. Jigsaw gets captured but they can't arrest him (yet) because the video monitors in his hideout show the detective's kid is stuck in a house with a whole bunch of ex-cons the detective helped put away. They've all been infected with a deadly biological agent. It's a race against time! Will the cops find the house where the video feed is originating? Will the captured victims find the syringes full of antidote which have been carefully hidden throughout the house? Does anybody care?
The plot of Saw II unfurls with the relentlessness of the sweeps week episode of any given prime-time drama. It's not very plausible, but movies like this are not about plausibility. On the internet people devote long, scholarly, misspelled and under-punctuated forum posts to the intricacy of Jigsaw's character: He's not really a murderer because his victims kill each other! Please. Jigsaw selects victims who don't appreciate the value of their own lives. Apparently those who survive his ordeals are better people afterward? Never mind the fact that they've committed a murder (or several) and lost their sanity in the process.
Jigsaw exists for no reason other than to give the audience a conflict to care about and a bad guy with whom they can't identify.
It worked in the first movie because we didn't know him yet, but by Saw II his mystique has worn thin. The same thing happened with The Ring Two, which is a better movie all around than The Ring, but which is less fun to sit through because (as in Saw II) we already know the rules. This is the problem with suspense movies: usually there's room for a sequel, but the story is already nicely self-contained. The rules are explained at the end, so when it comes time for a sequel, there are three options:
- Change the rules, as in The Ring Two
- Pad the premise out with more events and false endings, as in Saw II
- Completely transplant the main characters to a different setting, as in The Chronicles of Riddick
Where do you go after you've revealed WTF?