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Friday, October 28, 2005

Saw II

So last Friday I was feeling sick and missed my weekly trip to the Essex Outlet Cinemas. I laid in my bed and sulked, and I realized that going to the movies was more than a pasttime to me. It is an addiction, and one I never want to quit. If I thought Dale and Karen, the managers of the Essex Outlet Cinemas, would have let me, I'd have come in my pajamas and put the arm rest on one of the comfy rocker seats, turned it into a loveseat, and curled up in a corner to watch whatever was playing. Yes, the popcorn and the chairs are just that good.

So, anyway, this week I was feeling much better and chomping at the bit to see the new horror movie, Saw II. I confess I love horror movies even though most of them are cheesy and the acting could make your eyes bleed it is so bad. And speaking of bleeding eyes, this is where Saw II opens. A man in a poorly lit, dingy room is attached to a dangerous looking contraption bolted to his head and with a series of pulleys keeping him from escaping. A television plays a explanation of his situation. He can only unlock the nail-filled mask aimed at his face if he removes the key that has been surgically implanted behind his eye. A scalpel is provided and he has only 60 seconds to either cut out his own eye and retrieve the key or the Venus Flytrap will snap shut on his head. And this is before the opening credits!

It isn't imperative for one to have seen the original Saw to appreciate this sequel, though for fans of the first this does offer a nostalgic trip back to the scene of the original. Donnie Walhberg, who I remember mostly from The Sixth Sense and Dreamcatcher as much as from being Mark Wahlberg's brother or a member of New Kids on the Block, plays Detective Eric Mason, investigating the Jigsaw Killer (as our anti-hero is known). The Jigsaw is unique in that he never actually commits his murders but finds very clever ways of getting his victims to kill one another in order to save themselves. His trademark puppet that was his only persona in the first film is sadly underused in this one. Instead, we meet the man behind the puppet and learn what makes him tick, which is a lot more complicated than simple sadism. Still, there is not so much psychological analysis as to drag the movie down. No, there is plenty of inventive and painful gore to be had as Jigsaw has filled an abandoned house with a motley group of eight would-be/will-be victims, including Eric's teenage son. They have two hours to retrieve hidden syringes with the antidote to a nerve gas that is being pumped into the ventilliation system or they will all die painfully as the gas dissolves their internal organs. You have to hand it to Jigsaw. He is a great deal more entertaining than Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers. Jigsaw is no slash-and-burn killer, though he manages both in graphic detail. The guy is a genius in creating his Rube Goldberg inventions that provide these housemates with memorable ways to die.

In some ways this reminds me of a science fiction film from 1997 called The Cube. In that one, a group of strangers awaken in a gigantic, seemingly infinite, maze of rooms that are all identical except that some are randomly booby-trapped to kill. Instead of the sterile environment of The Cube, however, Jigsaw's gang wanders throughout a house that is so filthy it makes you think they would catch some kind of cooties just by sitting down or touching the walls.

I wish I could relay more about the plot points, but it would spoil the fun. Suffice to say, Donnie/Eric has to somehow elicit from Jigsaw where the house is that holds his son and the others. It might seem an easy enough task, but Jigsaw has nothing to lose, and he is always one step ahead in the game. For him, this is all a game, as he reminds Donnie over and over again. What elevates this above the usual mindless horror movie is that it is all about language. Jigsaw tells Donnie (and the audience) exactly what he must do to ensure that his son is returned to him, but he is no more listening than we are, which is the cleverest trick of the movie. While we think we know what is going on, the truth is right before us and we aren't seeing it.

Fans of the original will recognize the scene of the movie's climax as the same disease-ridden restroom where Cary Elwes spent Saw. It is almost funny to think that a place that reaks of urine, feces and decaying corpses can make a person feel a tinge of homesickness, but that is part of the real charm of Saw II. I can hardly wait for part 3.

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