Don’t be a dolt ― avoid seeing “Saw”

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Don’t be a dolt ― avoid seeing “Saw”


Movies like “Saw II” are not about originality. They’re about spending a little and making a lot. On that standard “Saw II” is a success. It cost $4 million to make and has already taken in about $122 million worldwide. The formula this time around: Watching flawed people get manipulated, stabbed, burned alive, trapped, dismembered, etc., by someone smarter than them.
Harlan Ellison, the science-fiction author-curmudgeon, once called people who go to movies like “Saw II,” “the great dolt audience... forced out of the Halfway House between television stupor and the real world: not yet fully awake, merely perambulated into another setting where the alpha state can be reinduced.” When Ellison saw this audience laughing at a decapitation in “The Omen,” he lost faith in humanity. (Coincidentally, this happened in my hometown.)
Granted, hyperbole courses through every page that leaves Ellison’s pen. And because I avoided seeing “Saw” with paying customers, I was spared my own encounter with the great dolt audience. However, I can confidently say that there is no healthy reason why human beings should willingly subject themselves to movies like this one.
In “Saw II,” the serial killer named Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) continues his gory crusade against human complacency. As the film opens, a police informant wakes up with a bloody eye and a metal Venus fly trap locked around his neck. The inside of the trap is lined with long spikes. A videotape tells him he has one minute to unlock the trap or it will close, and shows him where the key is hidden: inside his eye. Though he does his best with a dirty scalpel to gouge out his eye, eventually he fails the test.
Writing on the ceiling summons a particular detective, Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg), to meet the killer. It turns out Jigsaw has cancer and, as a last fling, has decided to place Mathews’ son Daniel (Erik Knudsen) in a house with some convicts and a tank of Sarin nerve gas. Thus the countdown. Of course, it turns out each of Daniel’s companions have their sin, and each has their own automated death trap, using the antidote as bait.
Some of Jigsaw’s tricks are creative and impactful, like the Venus fly trap, but more often they’re predictable and unpleasant, and anyway without a compelling narrative to tie them together the whole exercise is nothing but gratuitous.
Upon realizing his predicament, one of Jigsaw’s victims likens himself to the the trapped protagonist in “Oldboy.” If only these two movies were in the same room. “Oldboy” provided a complex, well-acted, fiercely original context for its extreme violence. The viewer cared about the characters, and was never quite sure who would win. But the characters in “Saw II” are paper-thin, and there’s never a question of who’s in control. Where Dae-su from “Oldboy” tries to calmly outthink and outfight his opponent, Detective Mathews and the gas victims do little except flail around.
“Saw II” is like one of its antagonist’s traps, targeting people who don’t appreciate life enough to do something better with their 93 minutes. Avoid it.

Saw 2
Horror / English
93 min.
Opens Thursday

by Ben Applegate
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