From Series

Saw VI: Less Plot, More Guts

Saw VI. 2009. Directed by Kevin Greutert. Screenplay by Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton.
Starring Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Mark Rolston, Betsy Russell, Shawnee Smith, Peter Outerbridge, Athena Karkanis, Samantha Lemole, Tanedra Howard, Marty Moreau, Shawn Ahmed, Janelle Hutchison, Gerry Mendicino, Caroline Cave, and George Newbern.
Twisted Pictures.
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★
saw_vi_ver6_xlgIn this Saw outing, Kevin Greutert takes up the reigns of the series. He’s primarily been an editor, having worked on every entry in the Saw series up until now (those duties were taken over by Andrew Coutts). With another screenplay from writing team Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, Greutert attempts to somehow extend the legacy of Jigsaw a.k.a John Kramer into another film.
Luckily, this one cuts back down to a 90 minute runtime, something other entries might have benefited from as well. Problem is, no matter how lean and quick things get there seems to be a progressive drop into full on gore for gore’s sake, which began a couple sequels ago. Even worse, the screenplay does not match up to what they’re attempting to do. There are good things here in Saw VI, but not enough of the original atmosphere and tone of the series remains for me to feel like this movie belongs anywhere near the top few.
With a couple interesting traps and a fun, plausible step in the story of Jigsaw, there’s enough to watch through once. But unlike the first and third entries of the Saw series, I can’t see myself putting this on again (this was my 2nd viewing and twice was too much). Going for too many characters, too many switches between subplots, I feel like this sixth entry of the franchise doesn’t do much except try to come up with more elaborate traps in which to toss more fodder characters for murder’s sake. Maybe enough for some? Not for my liking. There are gore films I enjoy, but this one doesn’t even go for scary, not really so much CREEPY either; it aims only for disgust and shock horror, nothing else.
SimoneArmSaw6Saw VI shows us what happens after the previous film, when Agent Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) makes it out of the house of horrors where Agent Strahm was crushed to death. Now the noose is slowly slipping around his neck, as the other law enforcement agents around him close in on the Jigsaw Apprentice; to Hoffman’s surprise, Agent Lindsey Perez (Athena Karkanis) is still alive after suffering terrible injuries in Saw IV. We get further flashbacks of Hoffman with Jigsaw a.k.a John Kramer (Tobin Bell) and his wife Jill (Betsy Russell), as well as Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) who was the other apprentice to Kramer.
At the same time, a health insurance executive named William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) finds himself in the clutches of a new Jigsaw game – having been the one to effectively sentence Kramer to death, not providing him coverage for an experimental treatment to help his cancer. Facing most of the people he knows and loves, the few they are, locked into a whole crop of terrifying traps, he must face the gauntlet or watch them all, as well as himself, die.
saw_6_imageImmediately something I did enjoy was the first trap involving this film’s main character, the seedy insurance agent. Reason being is that, while gruesome, the graphic nature of that entire scene opted not to be too extreme – the most we get is a splash of blood, really. And that’s fine. Because sometimes, less is more. Particularly when the series has strayed wildly into the area of so-called “torture porn” (fucking hate that dumb label though). Giving us a creepy trap which works effectively without needing to go for complete blood and gore is something rare at the tail end of the Saw series, so I’ve got to give them props for that in terms of writing and production design, all around stellar job on this sequence.
Furthermore, while I do think stretching a series out is not always a great idea, there’s something genuine which strikes me about the plot and story of Saw VI, as a logical progression in the overall tale of Jigsaw. Bringing in the whole insurance angle is not far fetched. And though you can certainly still ask why bother to extend the series, I don’t think there’s much use in trying to tear down the logic behind the story. Not saying everything in the plot is plausible, not whatsoever, merely that I think the story of the insurance agent coming into play is sensible, as Jigsaw would’ve no doubt found their practices enough to warrant ending up in a trap. Which, of course, they do.
saw-6-saw-vi-04-11-2009-23-10-2009-19-gTo be honest, an aspect of this screenplay I could’ve done without is so much of John Kramer’s (Tobin Bell) wife. I know she’s part of the story, I know it needs to be sorted out, yet so much of it feels like it’s mashed in, tacked on for good measure. Again, the whole insurance agent plot is something I find pretty good, but all the stuff with John and Jill (Betsy Russell), even the stuff with Agent Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), it all feels INCREDIBLY TIRED. Mostly, I feel like they should’ve just kept the main focus on Jigsaw instead of involving so many other characters around him. Once more, I know the writers can’t simply ignore characters and start leaving them out, but at the same time this already trim 90 minutes could’ve probably been trimmed a couple minutes more for scraps.
There are some incredibly tense bits, for instance the STEAM TRAP involving William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) and his attorney Debbie (Caroline Cave), which I found pretty wild. It had me on edge watching Debbie trying to make it through that rough cage maze with the steam. Nasty. But then that tension gets ruined with too much switching back and forth between the traps and those characters involved, as well as showing bits with Jigsaw, Jill, Agent Hoffman, even Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) is back for more action with new scenes for the first time since Saw II. There’s simply too many different things happening. Nobody can tell me I have a bad attention span or anything like that – check out the movies I love, and the sheer number of films I’ve seen over my 30 years on earth. There’s just TOO MUCH HAPPENING, not in a good way. Far too many characters for this 90 minute film to tackle; they’re just not needed, I don’t think. There’s no reason each and every last character here was essential to the film, not in any way. It’s a mess, in terms of how the screenplay flows, and throughout the film this throws the pace off to a point where it’s hard to recover. While I’m sure the back and forth between plots is meant to be intriguing, and also intense, when in reality it only serves to make this a jumbled sequel in the franchise rather than something well crafted and properly intense.
Hoffmanscars1Definitely one of the worst in this series, Saw VI is at best a 2 star film. There’s too much being thrown about in the screenplay by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, both of whom I do enjoy I have to say, for this movie to find a pace where it fits correctly. Instead, this movie sort of bounces all over the place from one scene to the next – very intense at times, others it’s sluggish and drags itself about with heavy handedness but under the guise of being full of mystery.
If you’re looking for a better entry in the series, I always suggest the first film and the third as my top choices. The second is decent, but those are honestly solid horror movies. Interesting, tense, and horrific stuff. This is just an excuse to try and make more money. Sadly, another franchise which has spiralled into the darkness in the worst sense.

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The Surprising Fun of Saw IV

Saw IV. 2007. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay by Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton.
Starring Tobin Bell, Costa Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Lyriq Bent, Athen Karkanis, Louis Ferreira, Simon Reynolds, Donnie Wahlberg, Angus Macfadyen, Shawnee Smith, Bahar Soomekh, and Dina Meyer. Twisted Pictures.
Rated. R. 93 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★1/2
saw-iv-52911af697ff0With Saw IV we’re experiencing a new era past the first three films, in the sense Leigh Whannell is no longer writing the screenplays. After James Wan departed following the first film, Whannell was sort of the anchor which kept things slightly grounded. Not to say things didn’t get a bit too much, or a little too forcibly wild at times, but I firmly believe Whannell writing the screenplays especially for the first and third film kept Saw in a space where I was enjoying things on a reasonable level. I do like this fourth film a bit, not near as much as the first and not quite as much as the third, however – I do find enjoyment in it. Darren Lynn Bousman’s writing in Saw II didn’t match up with his abilities as a director, which I think are pretty good. Moving over to solely working as director for the third, Bousman is back again directing here. Without Whannell, the writers of 2005 indie action/horror/comedy Feast – Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton – take over duties in an effort to try bridging the first trilogy of this series with this film, and the ones inevitably to come afterward.
Also, in an almost symbolic way Jigsaw himself has died and gone along with Whannell. At the same time, he still looms large over the franchise. No matter whether he’s alive or dead, John Kramer’s legacy affects everyone and anyone involved in the case.
So though I don’t think it’s as good as the entry preceding it, Saw IV has interesting things going on with character, the traps and situations are more interesting than certain stuff in the second film, and I thought the script did a decent job keeping up with the way Whannell had been especially during Saw III. By no means a perfect or great horror, there are some surprises as well as lots of horror to unsettle the viewer.
c361fa50a121348026e75b66aaa641a1Saw IV begins as Jigsaw a.k.a John Kramer (Tobin Bell) lays cold and dead on a hospital gurney. A coroner opens him up, only to find a wax covered object in his stomach: a tape. Lieutenant Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is called in to listen to the tape, discovering Jigsaw’s games are not yet over.
As Agent Lindsey Perez (Athena Karkanis) and Agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) are brought in on the case after the discovery of Detective Allison Kerry (Dina Meyer) dead, due to events from the previous film, we discover they may know more than they’re letting on. Supposedly, two more cops are in danger, however, they don’t know exactly which two.
Soon, it turns out Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) is still alive in the clutches of someone carrying on the work of Jigsaw. And eventually Lieutenant Hoffman finds himself in the same predicament.
Being framed to look like he’s carrying on Jigsaw’s life legacy, Lieutenant Daniel Rigg (Lyriq Bent) has to go on the run while also trying to figure out who is doing all this to him and his friends in the police department. When Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), John Kramer’s former wife, is called in for questioning, everything becomes a little more clear.
Except that nothing is ever clear when Jigsaw is involved; dead or alive.
mausoleum-trappng-7f5ff1Part of why I really do enjoy this fourth film in the series is because we get more about the past of John Kramer. Not merely confined to Jigsaw and his relationship with Amanda Young, Saw IV involves John’s past, his wife and unborn child, everything which pushed him further into the darkness of his alter ego as Jigsaw.
The whole story of how his then wife Jill (Russell) ran a drug rehabilitation clinic of some sort was very interesting. I always enjoyed the way Kramer himself was an engineer, helping to explain the traps and all that, but adding this whole angle in is pretty good. When Jill ends up miscarrying her child after an encounter with one of the addicts, I was actually devastated for Jigsaw. You can clearly see how the events of his later life absolutely decimated him and his positivity, any kind of nice outlook on life. However, it’s obvious most people who suffer personal atrocities don’t go on to be savage killers like him. This is simply a real interesting way to put the hooks in and make you feel a bit of emotion for John Kramer. He becomes – even for the slightest, most brief moment in time – a sympathetic killer. Doesn’t last long, but still, there’s a second where you feel deeply for him and the never ending tragedies of his life.
ArtMouthStitches 2318_9_screenshotAnother interesting aspect of this film is how another character, like Jeff in the previous Saw III, is being forced into, essentially, playing the Jigsaw killer. Here we’re watching Lieutenant Daniel Rigg (Bent) being made to play the game, putting others – such as a rapist who got out on technicalities – into a life or death situation. While Jigsaw says he’s not a killer, he is because otherwise those people would not be in a trap; they might end up dying down the road, or who knows, but Jigsaw puts them in that position willingly. Therefore, a killer. In this same sense, Rigg (and Jeff before him) are also having to play God. Jigsaw is forcing them to be who he has become, the man he was forced to be.
saw4One thing this film lacks, which I thought Saw III tried to replicate so well from the first film, is the same atmosphere and tone of those previous entries. There’s still an expertly dark, gritty tone throughout the film. However, I don’t feel as if the entire aesthetic holds up to what Saw and Saw III were doing so well. Everything here sort of looks aesthetically the same throughout the entire film. In opposition, the other two entries I mentioned sort of go for very different looks and feels during the different segments of the film. Not that there’s anything wrong with using one solitary style the whole way through – most times I commend a film for that, if done appropriately. I think it’s an aspect which is genuinely lacking here because of how well it served the other two films using that technique.
I still do enjoy the visual look of Saw IV, it simply doesn’t pack the interesting and also gritty punch as the first and the third, and to a lesser extent the second film, as well. What I do love about the aesthetic in this film is the return of Charlie Clouser as composer. His music fits the Saw series extremely well, very fitting. At times it’s like machinery, beating and chugging along with the intensity of certain times. In other moments, Clouser gives us the subtle and creepy electronic, iconic sound of the series music, that haunted, floating riff we hear over and over. There are many instances where his music draws us in – for instance, when John Kramer (Tobin Bell) uses his first trap with the knives on Cecil (Billy Otis), the one who caused his wife to miscarry, there’s this wonderful buildup in the score; it starts with bits of the little electronic riff, then pounds harder with percussion, steady drums, and heavy guitars. Really amps up the weight of this scene as it sort of runs away like a train with its intensity.
SawIV_Hoffman_1200_673_sA few of the traps were impressive, mainly the first one we see with the two men on either side of a chain – one with his eyes sewn shut, the other his mouth. I thought that one was a fairly nasty and exciting trap to start with, as well as the fact the film didn’t open cold into a torture scene; we get a bit of a lead in, then after a few minutes there we have it.
What impressed me more than the obligatory Saw traps expected from each entry in the series was the end and its twist. Honestly, when I first saw this movie I’d not expected where things headed during the finale. Naturally, I was leery about completely resigning myself to one theory on what might be happening because this is a tricky series overall in terms of the writing.
But when the kicker comes, just after the final 15 minutes start to wind down, I was FLOORED! Really incredible writing and they went to such painstaking lengths to sort of sew everything together, as well as provide an amazing degree of continuity. For all its faults, the script for Saw IV has got some SERIOUS chops, honestly. Not all perfect, nowhere near, but there’s some inspired writing here and you really cannot deny that, at least not fully. I think the twists they incorporated here make up for the pieces of the film which aren’t up to the highest standards. Awesome, awesome ending and it’s up there as probably my second favourite to the ending of the first Saw film.

Definitely think this film is worth a 3.5 out of 5 star rating. This is the last of the Saw films I find truly worth it, and I didn’t like the second one really, so as it stands the first, third, and fourth entries are pretty much the only ones I’m a fan of in the end.
I love how the writers worked well with bridging things together after Leigh Whannell left the series. Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton definitely have the ability to write some decent horror. Not everything they do is solid, but who does perfect work all the time? They really got a kick-off with this film and have started to carve out good careers on their own away from Saw. Check this one out and I think if you give it a shot, instead of merely passing it off as “torture porn”, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how the continuity stretches out from the first three films of the series into this one, as well as the fact the finale is pretty exciting.

Saw III Gets Personal

Saw III. 2006. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell.
Starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Donnie Wahlberg, Dina Meyer, Leigh Whannell, Mpho Koaho, Barry Flatman, Lyriq Bent, J. LaRose, Debra McCabe, Costas Mandylor, and Betsy Russell. Twisted Pictures.
Rated R. 108 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
saw_iii_ver2_xlgA reason I didn’t enjoy Saw II near as much as the first is due to how focused the film seemed on going for a shock rather than building up a genuinely creepy atmosphere and ratcheting up the tension like Saw did so well. Though I don’t think Saw III is nearly as amazing as that either, it’s definitely much better than the first sequel.
One major problem I had with the previous entry is how there were eight different characters stuck in the house. I mean, it just felt forced and all of the characters weren’t given proper time to be developed, even in the slightest sense. So that was something which detracted from the film’s story and the tension overall. Here in the third film, I think whittling the main focus of characters down to a couple – plus exploring the relationship between Amanda Young and Jigsaw further – is an aspect of Saw III I’ve enjoyed incredibly. There’s certainly a degree of shocking horror, for some, but I feel more so in this film than the one which came before the concentration has come back to character development and full blooded tension. Partly, I think this has to do with the fact Leigh Whannell is the sole screenwriter again, as it was in the original film, and Darrne Lynn Bousman sticks to directing as opposed to writing; as a team, I think they do a pretty good job on this film together.

Saw III tells two simultaneous stories – one concerns Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) who has become a rundown man after his little boy was killed in a hit and run car accident, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) subjects him to many various tests in order to reach what he wants so badly: revenge; the other tells of Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh), kidnapped by Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) who turns out to be Jigsaw’s helper, and made to perform surgery on the now dying John Kramer.
Rigged with a collar set to blast her head off should John flatline, Dr. Denlon is forced to do her best in order to keep the serial killer alive, all the while Amanda chomps at her like a little angry dog. And Jeff finds his sanity unravelling, confronted with the sick, twisted world of Jigsaw.
scr-9I’ve got to give it to Darren Lynn Bousman, he knows how to open a film with an exciting and grim sequence. He began the previous one with a pretty definite and impressive bang continuing to do so here. Saw III is no exception, as Bousman gives us a glimpse of Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) who has been reduced to destroying his own body in order to escape the clutches of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). This is merely the start. Much more horror is to come after this initial scene.
One of the BEST NASTY scenes is actually just a homemade surgery, essentially. That’s actually why they didn’t cut the scene down where Dr. Denlon performs surgery on Jigsaw’s skull, because it’s the same as anything you might see on television or in a medical documentary. And still, it is a brutish sequence, in the best kind of way. There’s an amazing sense of tension and you almost sweat alongside Dr. Denlon as she works away on the dying killer. Just – WOW! Great, great scene both in writing and execution.
1193224_1363647264662_fullThere’s absolutely gory and also disturbing horror in this movie. Not in the same sense it was in Saw II, but it’s still there. No denying that. What I enjoy about the nastiness here, though, is that it isn’t the only thing the film relies on to carry its weight.
For instance, even just the story of Jeff’s character is better than most of what was going on in the previous instalment of this franchise. I like how Jigsaw’s method is switched up slightly here, as he’s essentially trying bring Jeff out of his revenge coma and into a reality, instead of merely dreaming of the act; now he is given the chance to actually HAVE revenge. So while there’s still traps and brutality, the characterization in this film is much better. Again, I’ve got the feeling most of the characters in the second movie came out of Bousman’s own script and then Whannell merely acted as a writer to flesh things out in order to connect it solidly with the Saw world he and Wan already setup (check out the history and you’ll understand). With Whannell back acting as sole screenwriter once more, his writing shines more and the characters are richer for that. You can see it easily in how things are trimmed down and each of the important characters ends up with sufficient screen time.
We’re also getting a great look at the character of Amanda, as well as her deep connection with John Kramer/Jigsaw. They’ve got a touching, emotional sort of relationship, but it’s most definitely an unhealthy, terrifying one at its most base. It’s nothing more than two psychotics bonding over psychosis.
2006_saw_3_008That leads me to another point I’ve got to make, which is in regards to the atmosphere and tone. Bousman did a decent job on Saw II trying to hold onto what Wan did with the first, but I think in the third film he’s able to tap into more of what the first did so well. There’s a better gritty atmosphere in this instalment, as opposed to the second which lacked that aspect. Each of the rooms Jeff ends up in during Saw III sort of has their own feel, again similar to the style of the first Saw.
Better than that, I love every moment of the scenes where Dr. Denlon is in the impromptu surgical operating room with Amanda and Jigsaw. There are a bunch of intense and terrifying shots, as well as scenes in general. But mostly it’s the gritty tone and the macabre atmosphere like we got in Saw which sustains so much of what’s enjoyable about Saw III. These scenes visually and aesthetically all around remind me of the dirty bathroom scenes with Dr. Gordon/Adam from the original film; not in a copycat sense, merely it harkens back to the film series origins, providing that grittiness I find so effective.
SawIII_Skull_1200_673_s saw-iii1What I like most is how the two parallel stories are happening – Dr. Denlon and Jeff – while Jigsaw himself is laid up in bed with his brain inflamed. I thought that was a genius touch because it’s not the typical type of horror movie one might expect. Of course, this is a hard movie to classify as you can’t truly call Jigsaw a typical serial killer, therefore this movie is not really a slasher. But regardless of how you want to type this into a classification, or a genre, a sub-genre, whatever, Saw III breaks the mould slightly in the way it presents its killer. We knew already once meeting Jigsaw up close and personal in the second film there’d most likely be some consequences to the fact he had a terrible disease. Now with this entry into the series, this big risk for Jigsaw actually gets enacted through its plot. At least I found it interesting, anyways. Not every day you see a film series show a whole movie concerning its killer basically dying – most of the time, the villains of the horror movies are INVINCIBLE, UNKILLABLE, UNSTOPPABLE MURDER MACHINES. Jigsaw, on the other hand, is a completely different breed of killer. Something I like about Saw and a reason I feel this is up there next to the original as one of the best in the series.
scr-8I don’t want to ruin any of the twists or anything concerning the ending. So I’ll just leave it with saying this: I think Whannell wrote a terrific script which focused on some interesting, complicated characters.
This is not as good as the first, but comes much closer than Saw II. Most definitely I feel this is a worthy 4 out of 5 star horror. There are some truly unnerving pieces of horror, though, Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannell together opt for more atmosphere and genuine scares rather than ALL shock. Just don’t let me misrepresent Saw III – there are some SICK moments here, especially the PIG VAT! Beware.
A lot of the other movies in this series degenerate into excuses for increasingly depraved and nasty trap designs. Saw III manages to include lots of disturbing bits while maintaining an impressive atmosphere using character, tension and some solid directing.

Saw II Proves Bigger Is Not Better

Saw II. 2005. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay by Darren Lynn Bousman & Leigh Whannell.
Starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Donnie Wahlberg, Erik Knudsen, Franky G, Glenn Plummer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Beverley Mitchell, Wil Burd, Dina Meyer, Lyriq Bent, Noam Jenkins, and Tony Nappo. Twisted Pictures.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Horror

★★★
saw_two_ver2_xlgJames Wan and Leigh Whannell created a brutal and mysterious horror film with 2004’s Saw, which went on to become a wildly successful movie at the box office, so there’s no surprise a sequel was coming. No surprise it went on to become an equal in series length to the likes of A Nightmare on Elm StreetFriday the 13th, and Halloween. The second film in the series is a little less mysterious and more full-on horror – not that the original was shy on the gory, bloody moments – but it’s also got a bit of a crime-thriller feel to it at times as the police and criminals feature heavily in the cast of characters along for the sequel.
While Saw II goes for a slightly different feel, opting for more shocking horror than building a specifically cultivated atmospheric grimness, I do think there are truly excellent horror movie moments that cannot be disregarded. However, the beginning of the slippery slope into the silly label of “torture porn” begins with this sequel and amplifies as the series goes on. Getting a look at the Jigsaw character more is one of the aspects which ultimately saves Saw II from being only focused on the torture and nastiness. Even further, I do feel that Darren Lynn Bousman works well with the tone setup in Wan’s film, allowing this essential aspect to carry through and sustain other elements of this sequel.
f99fd3d686884025aa85ea7513171b45Saw II sees Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) digging into the Jigsaw Killer case, along with Detective Allison Kerry (Dina Meyer). When they head to a crime scene, where several law enforcement officers are injured in the line of duty, they finally discover the killer himself, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), waiting for them. What begins is not only a game between the police and Kramer, a.k.a Jigsaw, it is also the fight for the lives of eight people whom the killer has trapped in huge house, stashed at some unknown location; one of which happens to be Daniel Matthews (Erik Knudsen), son of Eric.
Jigsaw reveals bits of himself, yet it’s always someone else and their transgressions which he is interested in. Things become even more confusing when Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) wakes up in the house alongside the other seven, discovering herself trapped in another Jigsaw game all over again.
There is no telling who will make it through and out of the house, nor is there any comfort in knowing the police have Jigsaw in their grasp.
Because he also has them in his own.
image03 still-of-dina-meyer-and-donnie-wahlberg-in-saw-ii-(2005)The opening sequences in this sequel is a whopper. There’s a guy alone in a room, naturally greeted by a video of Billy the Puppet with the voice of Jigsaw speaking to him. But it’s the contraption on his head which draws the most attention: like an amped up iron maiden medieval torture chamber except confined solely to the head. I thought this was a perfect way for Darren Lynn Bousman to set the tone for his film; it’s obvious, right off the bat, this one is trying to extend that grim and macabre atmosphere that began in the first. While I don’t think this one holds up exactly to the standard James Wan’s original film set, this opener and many other scenes in Saw II definitely fight to keep up with its predecessor on the level of intensity.
SawII_Knudsen_1200_673_sA benefit to this film is that we discover more about Jigsaw, but more than that we’re getting treated to a full dose of Tobin Bell. He is a really fantastic actor and I think this character was almost MADE for him, like destiny. Honestly, when I think of iconic horror villains he is absolutely on that last, and he’s a person who – 20 years down the road – I just can’t see not being Jigsaw, you know? Much like other roles, I find it hard to see anyone else playing this guy because Bell does such great work. For instance, even with all the makeup Freddy Krueger will ALWAYS BE ROBERT ENGLUND (sorry Jackie; love your acting though), while Michael Myers can be inhabited by several actors because the body language is what’s mostly key about his character, same goes for Jason Voorhees. Now that we’re seeing Jigsaw more face to face, as opposed to the first film where we only discover who he is within the final few moments, there’s no way I can separate Jigsaw and Bell.
Not only his looks, his voice is unsettling; calm and creepy, very calculated, with purpose. He also has this weird eye contact thing I love, where he locks eyes with someone he speaks to and sort of holds them in his gaze. Works great for the character because he’s all about the humanity of everything, so Kramer strikes me as the type of guy who is interested in the connection between humans, as well; eye contact being a very intimate connection, which many are not comfortable with, which I think is what interests me about a serial killer (if you can call him that technically) who holds fairly close eye contact with most people to whom they’re speaking. Just an example of why I find Jigsaw/John Kramer an already classic horror villain, little bits like his way of watching people as they’re in conversation really give what could be a one-dimensional character much more depth.

Part of me finds the ingenuity in some of the traps out of Saw II innovative, in terms of horror movies, there’s also a part of me which tunes out to some of the nasty stuff happening. Anyone who has read my reviews, or knows me, understands that I do love a good gore flick as much as other hardcore horror fans. More than that, I’ve been a fan of a few terribly vicious films for years – something sick in me gets a thrill out of Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, I recently discussed my enjoyment for cult classic Cannibal Holocaust, and then I love all sorts of other disturbing or gory movies, from American Psycho to Martyrs to Anthropophagous, and many more.
STILL – somewhere I draw a line to the limit of shock horror I find useful or sensible in one film. Certain movies can pull it off and there are many ways to do so. The aforementioned Anthropophagous is straight up madness, however, there are so many weird horror elements within it I find the movie underrated. In opposition, I think Saw II tries to simply go bigger on both plot and shock simply for the sake of it. Though I do find the premise of having Jigsaw throw these eight people into a house, there’s also the fact it’s a bit contrived, and that it seems at times like an excuse to amplify the amount of torture/traps shown onscreen. Saw went for a little more of a contained, smaller style all around from the gore and violence, most of which came offscreen and what didn’t relied on a tensely cultivated atmosphere. Just as I love how Saw III goes back to that dynamic; it still has plenty of torture and nastiness, but sticks with a more manageable amount of characters.
still-of-emmanuelle-vaugier-in-saw-ii-(2005)-large-pictureThis brings me to my biggest problem with Saw II. I don’t think the acting holds up. Most of all, there are too many characters being tossed around in the script from Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannell. Not entirely sure, in my opinion, so many characters were required. As I mentioned, part of this I think comes entirely from the fact the filmmakers, and no doubt the studio, wanted to include more gore, more torture, more violence, so adding more characters only seemed natural. MORE MORE MORE!
But more is not always best. I’m not saying less is more, either. I’m just saying: more doesn’t work all of the time. While Bousman tries to hold onto the atmosphere and tone which Wan came up with in this film’s predecessor, part of what hinders their build-up is having too much time dedicated on the many characters included. Especially considering the fact this sequel is exactly 10 minutes shorter than the first. In my mind, this one could’ve benefitted greatly from being ten minutes LONGER than the original Saw, as I could’ve used more reliance on that atmosphere and tone than on the excessively expository dialogue at times and the mounds of additional characters amped up significantly here.

This sequel is only about 3 stars for me. It’s a little better than mediocre, only because I love Tobin Bell so much and I do feel as if Darren Lynn Bousman did a fairly decent job with his first feature working off bits and pieces of what James Wan did in Saw. Added to that, Shawnee Smith’s return is both wonderful in terms of the plot and also for the fact she does great with the role of Amanda Young. I like where everything went thematically, as well as how Jigsaw’s methods become more and more clear now with the people he chooses to put into his traps. My enjoyment of this sequel doesn’t extend much further.
Unfortunately this movie suffers from two incurable problems: 1) the need to include a bunch of extra characters who are frankly not written overly well, and 2) relying too heavily on trying to shock and repulse us with nasty horror/gore than actually genuinely, effectively SCARING US. These prevent this movie from rising above most other horror out there and it’s no better than most of the non-Saw films trying to imitate its style. I don’t suggest this one as a good addition to the series. Like I said, though, I’m a fan of the third particularly above this one; I feel it returns slightly to the simplicity of the first, while also opting for plenty nastiness. See this entry in the series mainly for Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith, as well as some grim trap designs.

THE COLLECTOR is an Unsettling New Horror Villain

The Collector. 2009. Directed by Marcus Dunstan. Screenplay by Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton.
Starring Josh Stewart, Andrea Roth, Michael Reilly Burke, and Juan Fernández. Fortress Features. Rated 18A. 90 minutes.
Horror/Thriller.

★★★★
The-Collector-1-the-collector-2009-30905046-800-1185It’s only natural to see why people try to say that this movie is a Saw knock-off.
First of all, anything involving traps now will forever be likened to saw. Reviews like to use the (idiotic) term someone coined, “torture porn”, to try and describe similar films.
Second, The Collector is directed by Marcus Dunstan, as well as the fact that its screenplay was written by Dunstan and Patrick Melton – both of whom did a couple Saw films. In fact, this was intended to be a sort of prequel, or who knows what kinda-quel, but I assume the producers wanted nothing to do with it.
Now, we’ve got The Collector. I don’t think it’s “torture porn”, nor would you ever catch me using that god damn ridiculous made-up term. I know what the people using it are getting at, but I think it’s a) the cheap way of saying what you don’t have the better words to say, and b) nonsense because some horror movies are just more brutal and depraved than others. Yes, some horror just goes either over-the-top or too vicious to the points where you’re thinking to yourself, “Okay let’s get the rest of this over with…”. However, there’s other horror, the real effective stuff, the fun stuff even, that uses it in the right sort of way.
I find The Collector is in the latter section of horror films – it’s brutal, but a hell of a lot of fun. In a twisted way.
ad5adebab7d54c39b70191ba4b4aa5c2The movie opens with Larry and Gena Wharton coming home from a night out. They’re laughing, seemingly they’ve had a few drinks and a bit of fun. Upstairs, the older couple find an antique-looking trunk. Inside… horror. Then from out of nowhere, they are attacked from behind.
Cut to Arkin O’Brien (Josh Stewart): ex-con working as a handyman in the home of the rich Chase family – Michael and Victoria (Michael Reilly Burke/Andrea Roth), along with their daughters Hannah and Jill (Karley Scott Collins/Madeline Zima). Unfortunately for Arkin, his wife Lisa (Daniella Alonso) owes a debt and the sharks are asking for their money – they need it tonight, she says. Arkin’s wage as handyman, even for such a rich family, does not cut it.
fhd009TCL_Juan_Fernandez_005Turns out, though, Arkin has been casing the place. There’s a ruby worth a ton of money inside the Chase house. Arkin rushes the job and heads out to the house that night in order to rob them. There, he discovers a masked man – The Collector (Juan Fernández) has rigged the place with traps and other horrors. In the main bedroom, Arkin discovers an antique style trunk, and inside: Larry Wharton. The older man is in bad shape, he warns Arkin that “he always takes one“. The family is all either incapacitated, or eventually killed. Arkin tries to save who he can, but The Collector has so many surprises in store for him.
201402170548_the-collector-4Immediately, there is a tone to the film I thought worked extremely well in making things creepy. For me, it was a combination of the look and feel of the scenes and the score.
Dunstan uses a great colour scheme that makes it feel like an old school genre picture. There’s this green-ish/yellow v. blue thing going on at times (as you can see in some of the pictures I’ve included), and I liked how it made things look. Not only that, there’s almost a grainy layer over the camera’s lens in a lot, if not all, of the scenes. I like it, Reminds me of the look David Fincher chose to go with for Se7en. Together with the choice of that green/yellow and blue pattern, almost muted and blurry colouring, the grain of the film makes things look dark and gritty. Super fitting for the way things play out.
Now – the score. I would say, for this movie, the score works perfectly. I knew of Jerome Dillon before now, simply because I’m Trent Reznor’s biggest fan (maybe not realistically I just love his music and have for 20 years). Dillon did amazing work with Nine Inch Nails – my favourite being on And All That Could Have Been and With Teeth. Dillon’s use of an industrial sound flows well in combination with Dunstan and his gritty visual style.
One of my favourite moments of the film, in terms of music + directing, is when there’s softer, friendlier sounding music playing while Dunstan gives us a montage of shots showing The Collector’s carnage, the blood, the fury he has unleashed throughout the house; something about the juxtaposition of that sweet sound, soft guitar riff and vocals, against the terror and the bodies – it works horror movie magic!
A lot of good moments work effectively with the music – and not in the way certain horror movies, like the 2012 remake of The Woman in Black, employ the jump-scare with strings to literally jolt you, which I consider a cheap way to do things. Dunstan and Dillon make things unsettling in a great fashion, their collaboration makes this movie come off in the right way on more than enough occasions that it’s a significant part of why the whole film works.
the_collector_horror_review-5There’s very little in this movie I would say is written poorly. Not even a handful of scenes, in my opinion.
One sequence, though, I found particularly dumb: when older daughter Jill Chase (Madeline Zima) comes home with a boyfriend, they seem to just not notice a thing until The Collector is spotted, creeping in the dark while the young couple starts to get frisky; meanwhile, I thought the entire house was filled with traps and devious devices to really fuck someone’s day up. I guess it was an effort on the part of Dunstan and Melton to try and either add a shot of breasts (Zima gets her chest let loose for a few seconds before Mr. Collector is seen), or maybe it was simply the fact they wanted a way to have another member of the family be killed onscreen instead of just tied/locked up somewhere in the house. Either way, I thought it was a bit dumb.
However, they did save themselves a little. Poor Jill meets an awful end (as seen above), and I thought it was pretty gnarly in the best way possible. Junky lead-up, but a good horror movie kill indeed.
Overall I have to say the characters aren’t developed much, if at all. Outside of Arkin, honestly there’s no real development of any other character. I really do like Arkin, and I’m not even a big fan of Josh Stewart – but he plays it well. We get to see a good bit of him in terms of character, not enough of the family. I cared about Arkin as a character, but when it came to the family I sort of felt apathetic; there wasn’t enough time to get to know these people before they’re locked up in the house and being messed with/tortured/killed. With Arkin, we see bits of his family, the tough time he and his wife are obviously having. There’s also the moments with Arkin where we see him talking to the youngest Chase daughter, even the older one, and he genuinely seems to be a good guy. So I connected with him, whereas the family didn’t get enough screen time for me to be invested in them. Certainly – SPOILER AHEAD – I suppose that’s why Arkin is the character who goes along to the sequel, along with The Collector obviously.
fhd009TCL_Juan_Fernandez_004Most people try to pick holes through the story of the film, but me – I know when to suspend disbelief. Sure, something like this would probably never happen in real life. It’s like a reverse Home Alone where Joe Pesci and Danny Stern break into the McCallister house before they could wake up to go to Paris, and they terrorize Kevin along with his family using booby traps.
But it’s scary. For me, anyways. I thought The Collector was a great horror villain. And even though I personally enjoy some of the Saw franchise, I find The Collector more entertaining. In Saw a lot of the people Jigsaw was taking were some messed up people – not all of them deserved that craziness, but some of those “victims” of his were awful sketchy. With The Collector, as opposed to Jigsaw, he’s active in the murder of these people – that’s what makes him a badass horror villain, more so than Jigsaw. He doesn’t let people ultimately decide their fate; he breaks in, kills with his contraptions and traps and gadgets, then The Collector takes someone with him along to the next house of horrors.
Yeah, you have to suspend some disbelief. Certain horror is meant to be realistic, other stuff is not – The Collector is an all-out horror, balls to the wall, but it isn’t meant to be the story of a real serial killer. The main villain, for me, is up there with some of the iconic guys. I wouldn’t put him next to Michael Myers. I would, however, put him next to Jason and Freddy both at times – even though I love those two and they’re ultimate icons of horror. I just think The Collector is interesting. Very interesting. So if suspending disbelief at times has to happen, I’m all for it. Because this isn’t meant to be one of those raw and realistic bits of horror, not like a found footage movie tries to be (notice I did emphasize the verb ‘to try’ because not all of them can achieve that goal) or something like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. This movie is meant to be visceral, gritty, and fun in the most disturbing sense of horror.

For me, I’ve got to say this is a 4 out of 5 star horror film. In my books, there’s not a whole lot more Marcus Dunstan needed to do on his part as director. Although there could’ve been a few tweaks in the script – I thought the parts with the daughter/her boyfriend didn’t make enough sense because the whole house seemed booby trapped and everything yet they were unaware so long, plus Dunstan and Melton could have given the family more depth than they were allowed (I connected with Stewart’s character because he had a decent little backstory while the family felt flat), I think the weakest element is the acting. Again, Stewart was good, but I didn’t particularly think anyone else stood out – other than Juan Fernández, who is beyond creepy as The Collector. They are the main characters, of course, I just did not feel like the supporting cast held up their end.
Either way, it’s a great little film that came out of nowhere. I’d seen a brief synopsis about a year before its release, but nothing much else. Then once it dropped, I was blown away. I also enjoyed The Collection, its sequel, and I’ll be doing a review for that one soon, as well.
Check this out if you haven’t, hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this tense and intense horror-thriller.