After amassing an excellent box office return with the smash horror hit “Saw” in 2004, Lionsgate Films released the inevitable sequel “Saw 2” just one year later in hopes of maximizing their returns by riding the coattails of the first film’s success. With a mostly new cast consisting of fairly talented, yet not so well known actors, such as, Donnie Wahlberg (“Ransom”), Emmanuelle Vaugier (TV’s “Smallville”), and Beverly Mitchell (TV’s “7th Heaven”) acting alongside returning members from the first film, Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith, I for one was unsure whether this would be a horror sequel worthy of being watched or yet another inferior sequel in a line that is far too long to begin with.

“Saw 2” picks up shortly after the events of the first film, as Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), the madman from the first movie has returned with a new set of games to play and traps to set. When Jigsaw’s newest victim is purposely left in the open to be discovered by the police, lead detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) traces the crime back to its perpetrator with relative ease. With Jigsaw being caught, what would seem to most people to be a massive set back to his plans, is merely just another aspect of the game that he has carefully set into motion. As the detectives desperately try to break Jigsaw, eight new victims are trapped and fighting for their very lives. With time running out the choice faced by all involved can easily be summed up by Jigsaw’s cryptic motto, “Live or die, make your choice.”

Here’s the thing with “Saw 2”, it’s kind of a mixed bag in terms of my take on the movie. On one hand I thought it was a very solid, and in some ways surprising follow up film to one of the most original horror films I had ever seen. On the other hand, certain aspects to the film felt somewhat standard and by the book, and featured characters that were not nearly as interesting as those in the first film.

I thought that as far as the story for this installment goes it was just as interesting, and even a little more in depth than the first one. This chapter in the ‘Saw’ saga gave viewers more of an insight into what pushes Jigsaw to do what he does and how he rationalizes it all. This element of the story was surprising because I expected it to make me feel somewhat sorry for him, which I would not have liked at all, but instead it makes you realize just how extremely disturbed he truly is, because his reasons are purely insane. This approach was a surprise for me, and one that I appreciated from the writers (Leigh Whannell and Darren Lynn Bousman) because they opted not to attempt to gain sympathy from the audience towards Jigsaw, but instead chose to show him as a normal human being at one point in his life, who snaps and begins this insane quest to teach others to appreciate life. What a novel concept for a writer to try, for once lets try to keep the villain despicable throughout the series, rather than make him a likable guy who is just misunderstood or has been led astray.

The cast, as I stated earlier, is not as well known as the first film’s, but is still decent all the same. Donnie Wahlberg is a better lead than Cary Elwes, and his character was far more interesting due to his somewhat corrupt nature, and his link to the eight victims trapped by Jigsaw made for interesting drama as the plot unfolded. The various members of the cast that comprised the eight trapped characters were adequate; some of them gave solid, believable performances, while others just gave audiences typical horror movie throwaway characters that the audience could care less about. Tobin Bell was featured much more heavily in this film than he had in the previous, and he is allowed to give more depth to Jigsaw this time around, and he does a wonderful job of portraying the two time periods of the character’s life that are depicted in the film. In the flashbacks we see him when he was known simply as John, a normal man who is given horrible news, the fact that he has cancer. This news shakes him to his very core, and serves as the catalyst to his downward spiral into insanity. Then we see him throughout the rest of the movie as the evil, manipulative Jigsaw; the way Tobin plays the two sides of the same person so drastically different is a great showcase of his acting talent.

The biggest problem I had with “Saw 2” was the fact that some of the characters featured in this movie were just flat-out unlikable, and yet these were the ones we should have been rooting for to survive to the end of the film. However, for many of them I didn’t really care if they succumbed to Jigsaw’s maniacal plans. Now, I’m well aware that some of the eight soon-to-be victims were designed to be as unlikable as possible, but to me for a horror movie to truly work, each and every character that is being pursued by the killer should have at least some redeeming qualities so the audience can feel some sense of loss when they are killed by the killer, this isn’t the case with “Saw 2”. At least half of the eight people trapped are some form of despicable criminal, who I felt deserved punishment, maybe not the kind as severe as Jigsaw had set, but I still didn’t feel too bad when their time came. What made the first film work somewhat better than this one was that the characters, though flawed, were still likable and people the audience could root for to survive through to the end. If “Saw 2” would have taken this approach a little more then the movie would have been just as good as the first.

The traps, which are the focus of this series of films, are just as innovative and original as the first one. But, some of the setups for the traps relied heavily on the characters being stupid enough to fall for them, which of course they did. Where the first one had the traps being forced upon the victims, this one seemed like each trap being sprung was purely coincidence, that there wasn’t as much planning on Jigsaw’s part to force the character’s to fall prey to his deadly machinations. “Saw 2” also used the traps to focus more on bloodshed and gore than the first film did, where the director of the original movie, James Wan (who opted not to return for some reason), didn’t rely on as much gore to scare the audience, the new director Darren Lynn Bousman (who also co-wrote the film) went for less of an eerie atmosphere and more for blood and gore, which is the more typical horror movie route, and also served to bring this installment down some by not being as original.

“Saw 2” is an effective sequel to one of the most original horror movies of all time. However, a little too much reliance on convenience in places, along with too many unlikable characters denied this movie from meeting the standards set forth by the first film. Even though I have more gripes with this installment than I did the first one, it is still a superior horror movie compared to most horror sequels or just horror films in general that are released these days.

“Saw 2” is available in rated R and unrated editions, both contain violence and language.