That serial killer Jigsaw is not only back, but front and center in the inevitable studio sequel to last year's surprise low-budget horror hit "Saw". Whilst admittedly the premise and overall grimness isn't as interesting as its predecessor, the good news is "Saw 2" holds up better than most horror film sequels thanks to some clever set pieces and an interesting more thriller-esque take on the film's 'elaborate traps' setup.
The script is very run of the mill for the most part - after a great teaser piece involving a death mask, there's some truly awful attempts at character setup with a badly mugging Donnie Wahlberg as the typical burned out cop character and Dinah Meyer returning as his no-nonsense 'chick with balls' partner. Scribes Whannell and Bousman's strengths sure aren't realism, but thankfully the guys do have an idea what crowds want and immediately jump into the film's main scenario.
Much like the original, this film swaps between the actions of the cops tracking down Jigsaw and the actions of several people caught in Jigsaw's scheme. The playing field of the latter is much bigger this time around with a house full of traps and around seven or so characters caught in it. Some of these traps are rather simple or silly, although one or two you will remember such as one scene involving a pit of hypodermic syringes. The way people turn on each other throughout the film also plays out well even if it follows the ubiquitous 'one guy becomes an asshole out only for himself' routine.
Where the original "Saw" fell down was acting with both Elwes and to a lesser extent Whannell turning in some painfully bad performances at times. Bousman seems to have a better understanding of basic direction and so despite the cheesy dialogue at times, none of the performances are as grating this time around. Still, the only real inspired work comes from Tobin Bell as the albino-esque dying Jigsaw whom wheezes out his backstory whilst playing out his schemes. Shawnee Smith also returns with a fun new take on her character.
Those who found the first film too much of a grim ordeal will probably find this effort more easy going. There's less of that annoyingly painful MTV style editing and the gore feels more Hollywood safe. That said it also lacks some of the slightly richer, darker mystery of the original and the twists, though cleverer, lack the same kind of punch. In the end it does what a sequel should do really - expand not only the playing field on which events unfold but the story arc in general. Another sequel seems inevitable and whilst this isn't exactly what one would call one of the great horror franchises, it does deserve to continue more than many of the films of this genre that do get follow-ups.