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2004's Saw was a movie that was worth significantly more than the sum of its parts. It told the tale of a disease-ridden psychopath nicknamed Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) who, depressed with how little the people around him appreciated life, decided to contrive situations (or 'games') where they would be forced to fight for their survival. Despite the acting verging on mediocre and the overblown editing resembling the result of letting a monkey loose on a vision-mixer, Saw possessed enough twists and gory thrills to be a supremely guilty pleasure.  

Saw II
With Hollywood intent on milking things until they turn to cheese, the outlook for the quickie sequel Saw 2 was not too promising, especially since it was green lit in Saw's opening weekend and rushed into production. Well, if you missed it at the cinema, this DVD release gives you another opportunity to catch the latest exploits of Jigsaw. Can it match the success of part one?

Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) is drawn into the twisted world of Jigsaw when the madman kidnaps his son Daniel (Erik Knudsen) and places him in a house filled with deadly toxic gas. Daniel's only companions are a group of ex-convicts, who must navigate a succession of booby traps if they ever hope to escape with their lives.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of Saw 2 is that, unlike many horror sequels, it doesn't go through the motions of merely recreating the original. The lack of returning actors means that the film is able to create its own identity and the plotline of people being torn to shreds by booby traps more closely resembles the Cube movies (and, possibly, Home Alone!) rather than its slow-burning prequel.

However, this brings with it its own set of problems. While the characters in Saw were ultimately flawed, they managed to gain our sympathy over the course of ninety minutes. In comparison, there's a distinct lack of individuals in this film who manage to win over the audience. Former New Kid on the Block, Donnie Wahlberg throws his weight around as Detective Matthews while Jigsaw's other victims are largely anonymous fodder for a variety of gory traps.

Saw II
Still, that's what a Saw movie is all about, right? And it's just as well because there's a distinct lack of scares throughout, while the suspense fails to match the original film. What Saw 2 does possess is a rather pleasing finale that, while not quite matching the fall-out from the prequel, is satisfying enough to leave you with a smile on your face.

Tobin Bell, mostly reduced to a blink and you'd miss it role in part one as Jigsaw is afforded a much larger role here and dutifully walks away with the movie. Well, at least until the franchise's trademark twists appear and try to convince you that this is all far cleverer than you've been led to believe.

While it never matches the tension and shock-value of its predecessor, Saw 2 is a surprisingly competent sequel and a sure sign that there's still life in this horror franchise. Whether it can continue at this standard is another matter entirely.

Gritty, dirty visuals are par for the course of a Saw movie and, while it doesn't always look pretty, it's certainly well presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The abundance of dark colours mean that the disc has its work cut out but, for the most part, these are handled extremely well. Sharpness occasionally lets things down a little; particularly when the colours become garish in the later scenes.

Saw II
Saw 2 has been treated to a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and it more than does the job. Crank up the volume and be pulled into a nightmarish world of non-stop screaming and shouting, accompanied by the relentless soundtrack. This is all balanced extremely well, especially dialogue which is crisp and clear, while surround sound effects are given a workout in the film's quieter moments.  

Disappointing; that's one way of describing the special features from Saw 2. There's no in-depth documentary, no deleted scenes and, horror of horrors, no trailer!

What we do have are a small group of featurettes detailing how the FX crew created Jigsaw's booby traps. None of these last much longer than five minutes and do get a little samey. The first featurette, ‘Jigsaw's Game’ (presumably commissioned  as a TV spot) acts as an introduction to the others: ‘The Head Trap’, ‘The Furnace’, ‘The Needle Pit’ and ‘The Hand Trap’.

A storyboard comparison is available for some of the film's more memorable sequences and it is momentarily interesting to compare how little the director deviated from these.

Finally, we have the main attraction; a commentary with director Darren Lynn Bousman and stars Donnie Wahlberg and Beverley Mitchell. It's something of a missed opportunity and too frequently turns into an excuse for a mutual backslap, although there's the occasional fact revealed that fans won't find anywhere else.  

Saw II
While the movie will please aficionados of the original Saw, the disc leaves a lot to be desired. Presumably, this will be treated to a special edition at around the same time that Saw 3 appears in cinemas. With this in mind, it will probably be worth waiting until that short list of extras is beefed up a little.