Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Saw II (Part 1)

Previously on Saw...

In which we met psychopathic serial killer Jigsaw, a man dying of cancer who kidnaps people and puts them into horrific traps they have to solve to survive. The traps usually involve physical disfigurement to survive, the catch that surviving this trap will make you appreciate life and change your wicked ways. At the end of the film Jigsaw gets away scot free, as we get the impression he's not quite done yet with his twisted crusade to make the world a better place.

The first Saw was the definition of a smash hit, made for almost nothing and turning a huge profit while getting very positive reaction from critics and fans alike. Its distributor, Lionsgate Films, knew they had something very special on their hands and wanted to create a new franchise based off yearly sequels releasing every Halloween.

One problem though: Saw's creators, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, had moved on to a different movie and were no longer available to helm a sequel. With less than a year from their targeted release date of Saw II and no one really having any idea what to do, fate handed Lionsgate a gift in the form of writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman and his script for a movie called The Desperate.

The Desperate which was almost identical to what wound up being on the silver screen except for the characters not being from the Saw universe. Bousman spent most of 2004 shopping this script around but got rejection after rejection, one producer even commenting it was similar to Saw which had premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year. Bousman had never seen the movie, and was actually afraid when he got a call from Lionsgate that they were going to complain over the similarities to their upcoming property.

But they didn't, instead offering him a job with the one requirement he alter his script to become the sequel to Saw. Whannell and Wan were brought in to help with the rewrite and what they came up with will forever go down as one of the strangest and most bizarre sequels to a movie EVER. Not to say this is a BAD thing, especially since Saw II is generally regarded as the best movie of the series, but they are SO radically different it reminds me a lot of Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2: two movies directly connected but almost polar opposites in execution. Let's explore what makes this film so different with A Ghoul Versus Saw II!

We open on a man waking up in a chair with a metal harness fastened around his neck, filled with rows of metal spikes facing inward. This is called the Flytrap, named for its function of snapping shut and killing anything unlucky enough to come between its two spiked halves. You should already know the drill by now, a TV cuts on and there's Billy saying he wants to play a game.

Billy details the crimes of the man, named Michael, and his lack of appreciation for life. The image of Billy changes to footage taken two hours ago, of a hooded man operating on an unconscious Michael. And I want you to pay EXTREME attention here, the hooded man LIMPS his way up to the operating table. I won't be bringing this up for another five movies, but if you can file this away in the back of your mind I'd greatly appreciate it.

We learn the surgery was on Michael's eye, placing the key to the Flytrap behind it. Michael freaks out, which trips the timer on his trap and it begins to countdown. He finds a scalpel on the floor but can't bring himself to do the deed, instantly killed as the trap closes around him sixty seconds later. One title card sequence later, we meet the lead of our story, Detective Eric Matthews. He's played by Mark- aww dammit, that's not Mark. He's played by DONNIE Wahlberg, the low budget Wahlberg brother who up to this point was probably best known for being a New Kid On The Block or the guy who shot Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense.

We can already see Matthews' life is in disarray, as he dresses rather slovenly and has a strained relationship with his rebellious teenage son Daniel. Matthews gets called in to a crime scene, where he meets up with fellow detective Allison Kerry who informs him the victim was his information Michael. Matthews learns this was another Jigsaw kill but really doesn't care until Kerry directs his attention to some writing on the ceiling, which says “Look closer Detective Matthews”.

They're able to trace this clue to the Flytrap itself, which is branded with “Wilson Steel”. SWAT plans a strike on the steel factory, led by the highly competent Sergeant Daniel Rigg.  He is played by the awesomely named Lyriq Bent, who had been in minor roles before his breakthrough role in this franchise. The raid hits a few snags as a couple of officers get wounded by various traps in the building but they find Jigsaw nonchalantly sitting at a desk eating dinner. He knew of their arrival well in advance, so this already looks like another case of your favourite and mine, Captured On Purpose. We can see Jigsaw is hooked up to an IV machine, as he looks considerably in poorer health since last we SAW him. Heh, get it? Cause the movie- ahh, forget it.

Rigg orders his men to take Jigsaw into custody, but the killer informs them he will need to remain where he is while Matthews deals with a problem. When asked what the hell he's talking about, Jigsaw directs their attention to a caged off area across the way. The investigate it, finding a series of monitors displaying multiple people trapped in a room with a large safe in the middle. One of these people just happens to be his son Daniel, which sends Matthews charging after Jigsaw.

Jigsaw informs him he has two hours until the gas in the room kills him, Matthews asking where he is. All the killer will reply is that he's in a safe place, as a brief shot to a clock establishes it's nearly 7:30. Matthews tries to call his son to make sure, but only gets his voice mail featuring Jigsaw saying he's not available. Damn, he DOES think of everything!

The camera transitions into the room itself, as we get to meet the players of the latest house party to go horribly, horribly awry. Role call:

-Daniel Matthews, whom we've already met, is played by actor Erik Knudsen who would reunite with director Bousman in 2012 for the horror movie The Barrens.
-Xavier Chavez, played by a man named Franky G who SOMEHOW isn't a rapper with a name like that.
-Jonas Singer, easily recognizable as Glenn Plummer of Showgirls fame.  I'm sure it'll be nice for him to be in a movie where everyone isn't a total scumbag only concerned about their own interests.  OH WAIT.
-Addison Corday, played by Emmanuelle Vaugier, whom has been in seemingly 300 thousand movies and TV shows so I'm sure you recognize her from SOMETHING.
-Laura Hunter, played by Beverly Mitchell of the insufferable show 7th Heaven.
-Obi Tate, played by Tim Burd who is best known for this very movie.
-Gus Colyard, played by Tony Nappo, who would join Bousman in his pretty fucking disturbing 2010 movie Mother's Day, which also featured Lyriq Bent.

There's also an unconscious woman lying on the floor that is soon revealed as Amanda Young from the last movie, who begins to freak the fuck out because she knows EXACTLY what's wrong. Damn, getting captured by Jigsaw twice is like the horror movie version of getting struck by lightning twice. She begins to frantically search the entire place, finding a tape player behind a loose section of bricks in the wall.

“Greetings and welcome. I trust that you are all wondering where you are. I can assure you that while your location is not important, what these walls offer for you is important. Salvation, if you earn it. Three hours from now, the door to this house will open. Unfortunately, you only have two hours to live. Right now, you are breathing in a deadly nerve agent. You've been breathing it since you arrived here. Those of your familiar with the Tokyo subway attacks will know its devastating effects on the human body.
“The only way to overcome it and walk out that door is to find an antidote. Several are hidden around this house. One is inside the safe in front of you. You all possess the combination to the safe. Think hard, the numbers are in the back of your mind. The clue to their order can be found over the rainbow. Once you realize what you all have in common, you will gain a better understanding of why you're here. 'X' marks the spot for that clue, so look carefully. Let the game begin.”.

Xavier also notices a note and a key that were next to the tape player, which warns them against trying to use the key to open the room's door. Xavier and Gus are like “fuck that!” and try it anyway, Gus getting shot through the eye by a trap as he looks through the peephole. Well, that's one down. I appreciate them killing off people this quick, eight people is WAY too many people to manage in a movie like this.

Jonas, who definitely seems sharper than the rest of this motley crew, demands answers from Amanda because she's a step ahead of everyone. She tells them about Jigsaw, no one having heard of him besides Addison because she reads the news. Watching this unfold on the monitors, a distraught Matthews asks Jigsaw what he wants.

The answer is simple: all he wants is to talk to the detective alone for awhile, saying the rest of the SWAT team doesn't even have to leave the building. If Matthews agrees to this, he'll see Daniel again. Matthew refuses but Kerry talks him into it, to at least buy them more time to trace where the monitors' signal is coming from.

Back in the Murder House, the Stranded Seven are searching the room for more clues when the door opens on its own. Everyone cautiously leaves, finding a locked door at the end of the hall with “EXIT” painted over it in big letters. Laura finds an open door that leads down to the basement, where they find a letter for Obi containing the next tape in it.

“Hello Obi, I want to play a game. For years you have burned those around you with your lies, cons, and deceits. Now you'll have a chance to redeem yourself for the games you've played with others by playing one of mine. Inside the device in front of you are two antidotes for the poison coursing through your veins. One is my gift to you for helping me kidnap the others, the second is yours to donate. However, one of them will come with a price. Remember Obi, you are my only hope- NO WAIT, I transcribed that wrong. Remember Obi, once you are in Hell only the devil can help you out.”.

The device in question is a blast furnace looking machine (a/k/a the blandly named Furnace Trap), but everyone focuses on the whole kidnapping thing instead. Laura has a brief flashback of getting chloroformed in her car, remembering Obi was the one who did it to her. Xavier pulls a knife on Obi, but the strange man doesn't even flinch and casually climbs into the furnace to find the antidotes, which are in the form of two syringes hanging from the ceiling. He grabs the first one without incident, but when he grabs the second the door slams shut and flames start erupting. Jonas and Xavier try in vain to rescue him but to avail as he burns to death, taking the needles with him. This entire scene keeps cutting back to Amanda watching all this unfold, for some reason.

Jigsaw continues his conversation with Matthews, bringing up some very valid points about how we only appreciate or forgive someone when their life is threatened and at no other time. Of course Jigsaw is still a batshit crazy psychopath, but THIS is how you're supposed to write a villain where he truly believes his cause is just and isn't just a mindless killer. This is transposed with flashbacks of Jigsaw learning he had cancer, as we see his full name is John Kramer. Upon receiving this world shattering news he tried to commit suicide by driving off a cliff but managed to survive, this “miracle” inspiring him to begin his work to test human nature.

Matthews, not listening to any of this, just wants to know where his son is and walks off. Jigsaw warns him about their agreement but Matthews ignores him. Cutting back to the house, the Stuck Six return to the main floor to search some more. They find a door upstairs that isn't locked, but Xavier can't get it to open. Amanda warns him it'll be a trap as a camera angle confirms this, and gosh Amanda sure is smart for never having been in a trap like THIS before, isn't she? I mean, how would she even know about tape players being hidden in a room when her trap didn't even involve a tape player? She must be like Addison and read the news every day, because she totally looks like the type that'd read the paper.

Xavier breaks the door down, tripping a wire that starts a four minute timer on a metal door on the other side of the new room. The camera keeps cutting back to Amanda again because we're all fucking idiots and can't possibly guess what her angle in all this is. It's also worth noting everyone else is getting sicker and sicker because of the gas, but she hasn't shown symptom one yet. Jonas finds a tape for Xavier hanging from a hook.

“Hello Xavier, I want to play a game. The game I want to play is very similar to the one that you've been playing as a drug dealer. The game of offering hope to the desperate for a price. I think we can agree that your situation is desperate, so I offer you hope. The price you pay is that you must crawl into the same pit of squalor your force your customers into. By entering this room a timer has been started, when the timer expires the door in front of you will be locked forever. Only in finding the key before the timer runs out can you unlock it and retrieve the antidote inside. I will give you just one hint as to where that key is: it will be like finding a needle in a haystack. Let the game begin.”.

Enter the Needle Pit: one of the all-time fan favourite traps. It's exactly what it sounds like, a giant pit FILLED with hypodermic needles that you have to dive into to find the key. Xavier takes one look into the pit and FUCKING THROWS AMANDA INSIDE IT! GODDAMN! Amanda's screams are absolutely bloodcurdling as she digs through the needles, getting more and more stuck in her body with each pass. With ten seconds left to go she thankfully finds the key tied to a glowstick, handing it up to Xavier but the fucking dumbass drops it and the door seals shut. You had ONE JOB Xavier, one job...

Jigsaw asks Matthews to get a folder out of his desk, which turns out to be the arrest records of everyone in the house. The common bond they all shared is they were arrested by Matthews, who planted evidence to obtain their convictions. Jigsaw says it'd be a shame if any of them discovered Daniel's true identity as Matthews recoils in fear.

Click here for Part 2!