Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Open Letter to SAW II (2005)

Dear Saw II,

That part where a girl got thrown in a pit of hypodermic needles was gross. But not as gross as you wanted it to be.

If you're going to write a movie by making a list of things that are gross, I suggest in
Saw III that a girl be killed by boogers. Because boogers totally gross me out.

Also I think in the animated logo for your company Twisted Pictures, the letters should squirt blood after they get sliced with barbed wire. SICK!

Your friend,

Now I love a gross-out. I don't trust critics who say otherwise, because they're denying themselves one of the principle pleasures of comedy and horror. But there are tricks to great gross-outs, and Saw II could learn a lesson from David Cronenberg's The Fly or Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, which make similar lists of what horrifies human beings on the level of sheer revulsion, but make witty forays into those gut responses. A snake slithering out of a corpse's mouth has never been funnier than at the hands of Steven Spielberg.

Saw II opens with a man having to decide if he wants to carve his eyeball out with a razor. This is a perfect opportunity for a riff on Western culture's infamous Injury the Eye motif/obsession. Saw II just makes it a scene about carving out your eye.

The idea of the Saw movies is that a murderer puts people in death-traps where they either mutilate themselves in a poetic-justice way, or die. This is a game we used to call "Would You Rather...?" in the elementary school cafeteria. The movie is very proud of pointing out that Saw is not a murderer "technically," but er, legally we're talking murder. The movie is also very proud of Saw's "games," but most of them A) would cause a human to die either way, B) are not poetic justice, C) especially in Saw II, many of the traps do not seem to really present a choice, and just kill the victim outright.

You probably haven't seen Hellraiser: Inferno, because I don't even know why I saw Hellraiser: Inferno. Unfortunately for Saw II, it shares a primary plot element with Inferno, as they both use their sadistic, demonic murderers as dark angels to serve just desserts to mean, crooked cops (in Saw II it's Donnie Wahlberg). Just desserts in a Saw movie, of course, means being physically tortured.

[Sidebar Fun: In a similar situation to Hellraiser: Deader, Saw II director Darren Lynn Bousman's screenplay was retooled by Leigh Whannell from an original script not intended to be a franchise installment. I'm not implying these parallels mean much, just that there are clear warning signs you're embarking on a dangerous voyage.]

Saw II thinks it is fiendishly clever, piling on dozens of Usual Suspects-level brainbending twists. It is a special breed of dumb which mistakes itself for exceptionally smart. Half the revelations can be seen from an hour before they're made. The unpredictable half simply don't make any sense.

The murders in Se7en, the movie the Saws aspire to be, are bold, proselytizing statements from a lunatic to the world. They are clever as sick-joke setpieces, but they are part and parcel with the moral concerns of Se7en: we are made to see that our killer and Morgan Freeman's Detective Sommerset have similarly unworkable worldviews. The Saw films set up medieval, would-be flashy murders. The writers ascribe airy moralizing rationale to their devil - he wants people to appreciate life, and get in touch with their survival instinct. Reverting to basest self-preservation has nothing to do with one's capacity for tenderness, which is supposedly the lesson Saw is trying to teach our crooked cop anti-hero. But Saw's moral scale is unbalance-able. It's a trick, an excuse, an impossible knot.

I realize you're damned if you criticize this, but I say you're damned if you don't: Team Saw II is too adolescent to realize its nonsensical philosophical lip-service doesn't enrich the string of gross-outs passing for a plot; it makes it dishonest. That goes for Saw, and that goes for the filmmakers.

There is only one.

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