Police informant Michael (Noam Jenkins) wakes up in an almost bare room, disorientated and unsure of his location. He grows more alarmed when he realises he is wearing a metal contraption around his neck and a television screen in front of him blinks into life to show a puppet head. On the TV soundtrack, Michael is told that because he has been fixing people up for their crimes, he has a choice: he can either let the contraption slam shut on his head like a venus flytrap, or he can retrieve the key to the device and save his own life. But where's the key? The television gives a clue when it shows X-rays of Michael's head - the key has been planted behind his eye, oh, and he now has sixty seconds to use a scalpel to get at it...
The original Saw was what they call a sleeper hit, nobody expected this independent horror to do the great business it did, but its takings were impressive all the same. So what happens in modern Hollywood when a film does far better than was hoped? That's right, the sequel is made, and Saw II was as big a hit as its predecessor, meaning a second sequel was ordered, but on this evidence the innovation was running a little dry. The original had the structure of a series of clever, if sick, jokes, but this time round things were more straightforward.
The script wasn't originally supposed to be a Saw sequel, but director Darren Lynn Bousman was given assistance by writer Leigh Whannell to make it more faithful to the first film. After the initial sequence, which doesn't end happily for Michael, we look to have been settled into a clichéd police procedural with Cop Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) having trouble relating to his tearaway teenage son Daniel (Erik Knudsen) and telling him in exasperation to go back to his mother, who Matthews has divorced. Then it's back to work, and he has to attend the crime scene we saw at the start of the film.
There's something unusual about the location, and after surveying Michael's body fellow cop Kerry (Dina Meyer) points towards the ceiling where there is a message from the killer to Matthews - this is personal. And when Matthews accompanies the police to an apparently abandoned warehouse they find that Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), the criminal mastermind from before, is there with a whole new set of puzzles. However, it doesn't appear that Matthews is to be the victim until he notices a bank of monitors that show various rooms in an unknown building; rooms containing a handful of people, including the kidnapped Daniel.
The first Saw wisely didn't let the sanctimonious Jigsaw talk too much, but here he pulls the old Bond villain trick of settling down for a chinwag with his would-be nemesis, and what a bore he turns out to be. You begin to sympathise with Matthews' frustrations as Jigsaw talks circles around the way to save the captives, who are being subjected to a slow acting nerve gas that will kill them in two hours if they don't find out the way out. Not understanding that there's no "I" in "team", they are better at squabbling amongst themselves than solving their problems, and one laboured plot point sees one character acting needlessly aggressively when simple co-operation would have been far more sensible. Resembling a computer game in its arrangement, complete with new levels of difficulty, Saw II is fair but unsatisfying and contrived compared to the ingenuity of the original. Music by Charlie Clouser.