Saw II Review
As there are already two excellent reviews of Saw II on DVD Times – a cinema review by Kevin O’Reilly here and an R1 DVD review by D.J. Nock here – I will spare you a lengthy discussion of the film since my own opinion is broadly similar. I thoroughly enjoyed the film but I thought the original was, well, more original, more horrifying and less predictable.
I do however, want to address an issue which has sprung up since the release of Saw II; the notion that films such as this, The Devil’s Rejects and The Hills Have Eyes are ‘horror porn’, obsessing on pain and suffering at the expense of more traditional elements of the genre. I think this arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the horror film is supposed to be. Far from perverting the natural course of the genre, these movies are actually returning to its subversive roots. The tingle at the back of the neck, the carefully planned ‘jump’ scene, sublime expressionist design and cinematography; all of these things are certainly welcome in the horror genre but they’re essentially fripperies. Horror is supposed to confront, disturb and upset. It’s the only genre which has a licence to put the viewer through hell and it seems to me to be a complete waste if that licence isn’t exploited. There are certainly a variety of ways of doing this, some more subtle than others, but taste and decency shouldn’t necessarily enter into the equation. If I have a complaint with the films in question, it’s that they often pull back just at the moment when they should go ‘too far’. If you watch a great extreme cinema sequence – the eyeball scene in Zombie Flesh Eaters for example – there’s a cathartic release that comes from the explicit payoff, a sense of ‘there but for the grace of god’ which allows us to be disgusted and relieved at the same time. Cut away from it or edit it into abstraction and the whole raison d’etre for the scene seems to me to be lost.
There are a few moments where Saw II does go ‘too far’ and they are the most compelling scenes in the film. The needle pit addresses a fear which is surely one of the most common in the world and does so with refreshing directness while the ‘razor box’ sequence has an intense nastiness which comes as quite a surprise (although few will be able to resist the reflection that characters in this sort of film still behave as stupidly as they always did). There’s a real Sadean spirit to these sequences and one or two others and they make the film more worthwhile than the endless scenes of characters wandering about and bickering would suggest. Add a splendid performance from Toibin Bell as Jigsaw, rapidly becoming one of the great horror bad guys of the decade, and an ending which has a rather exquisite logic and you have a sequel which in no way disgraces its prototype.
Entertainment’s R2 release of Saw II is very similar to the R1 Lion’s Gate release.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is generally excellent. The dingy, murky look of the film is entirely intentional – sickly shades of colour predominate – and the transfer replicates it very well. There is a fair amount of grain visible and the contrast is very harsh indeed but, again, this seems to be intended. Despite a certain softness in places, detail is good throughout and my only caveat is a certain amount of artifacting which appears in some of the very dark sequences.
No complaints from me at all about the soundtracks. Although we are lacking the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtrack from the R1 disc, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix here is stormingly good. It’s got plenty of surround activity to immerse you in the grisly proceedings and the sound effects and music are impressively atmospheric. A 2.0 Stereo option is also available.
The extras are surprisingly minimal for such a recent film, although I suspect we can expect a ‘deluxe’ edition coinciding with the release of Saw III in the autumn. What we get is a virtually identical package to the Region 1 disc. The centrepiece is a pretty good commentary track from Darren Lynn Bousman, Donnie Wahlberg and Beverly Mitchell. This isn’t especially informative but the three play off each other to entertaining effect and Bousman’s excitement about his first film is very likeable. Wahlberg, incidentally, comes across as more intelligent than anyone who remembers “Hangin’ Tough” might reasonably expect.
We also get five featurettes which run about 25 minutes in total. The first is an overview of the film, in EPK style, while the other four look at one trap each. The quality of each featurette varies wildly – the best deals with the Needle Pit while the most superficial is about the Hand Trap. Members of cast and crew discuss the effect of the scene and show how it was done. Nothing revelatory here but the overall effect is reasonably entertaining. Missing from the disc, for reasons I don’t understand, is the R1 featurette about the props of Jigsaw.
Finally, there are four storyboard comparisons which allow us to watch the storyboards for four sequences alongside the finished product.
Also missing from the release are the trailers which were on the US disc. Although the film has optional subtitles, none of the extra features do.
Overall, this is a good package from Entertainment, a distributor whose disappointing packaging tends to hide the fact that their releases are usually well above average. It’s certainly worth a look although die-hard fans might want to wait for the inevitable enhanced release later in the year.