REVIEW: Saw X (2023, dir. Kevin Greutert)

Certificate: 18

Running Time: 118 mins

UK Distributor: Lionsgate

UK Release Date: 29 September 2023

WHO’S IN SAW X?

Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund, Steven Brand, Michael Beach, Renata Vaca, Paulette Hernandez, Joshua Okamoto, Octavio Hinojosa

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Kevin Greutert (director, editor), Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg (writers), Mark Burg and Oren Koules (producers), Nick Matthews (cinematographer)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

John Kramer (Bell) sets a deadly set of traps for a group of con artists…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON SAW X?

For nearly twenty years, a dying cancer patient named John Kramer has been crafting and executing countless traps for unfortunate participants of his deadly games as the Jigsaw Killer – but what happens when the tables are turned, and it is Tobin Bell’s Kramer who is the one in a (slightly more metaphorical) trap? This appears to have been the inciting question that has revitalised the Saw franchise for the third time in six years – after 2017’s soft reboot Jigsaw, and the 2021 standalone spin-off Spiral – and, in something of a surprise, this tenth overall entry actually makes a rather compelling case for itself.

In Saw X, we find him still struggling with his terminal brain tumour (which puts this somewhere between the first and second entries, when this character was very much still alive), but he soon learns of a revolutionary new treatment run by Norwegian doctor Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund), and in a last ditch attempt to cure his illness he travels to Pederson’s secret facility in Mexico City where the doctor and her associates supposedly remove his tumour. Unfortunately, it turns out that the whole operation was a scam, prompting Kramer and his apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith) to round up Pederson and her associates, and – as you may expect – subject them to torturous traps in order to make them see the error of their ways.

The focus truly is on John Kramer this time round, making Saw X the first film in the series to have him be so central, and not just simply the sinister foil to some police detective or one of his numerous apprentices, as has been the case throughout most of these movies. Here, there are no cops that are hot on Jigsaw’s tail, nor are there any surprise associates of the serial killer, a twist which in and of itself has been played to death in this series (especially the final reveal in 2009’s Saw: The Final Chapter, which was perhaps one reveal too far, even for this franchise’s logic). In fact, there’s a lot of identifiable series trademarks that are missing entirely or toned down significantly, from the obnoxiously flashy early-to-mid 2000s music video editing, to its non-linear storytelling which makes following the overall timeline of these movies ever more difficult. Instead, Saw X stays very much within its own tight narrative, focusing solely on this character and his contained quest for personal retribution, which makes it feel far sturdier and more enticing than some of the other entries.

Since Kramer is very much the main character in this film, he is portrayed as much more of an anti-hero with more redeeming qualities than he has been given up until now. As it was when Stephen Lang’s blind menace was similarly upgraded to anti-hero status in Don’t Breathe 2, the decision to portray the notorious Jigsaw Killer in a more favourable light may not go down so well with some fans of the series, who may feel that this man has gone way too far in his deadly endeavours to be truly redeemed. That being said, this is probably the best that this character has ever been written, in addition to the strongest that Tobin Bell has yet been in the role, for he is humanised in a way that makes you genuinely feel his anger and sorrow for having been given false hope by some truly vindictive criminals, many of whom you’re desperately wanting to be sliced up by the killer’s various devices. Bell does incredibly well to generate some legitimate sympathy from the audience, with monologues that lend some unexpected gravitas to a character defined by ridiculously convoluted traps.

Speaking of the traps, if there’s one thing that you simply need to have in a Saw movie (other than Tobin Bell, and of course that tingling musical theme that comes on whenever a twist is about to be revealed), it’s a collection of highly elaborate traps that more often than not don’t make a lick of sense, particularly from an engineering perspective. Luckily, there are plenty of them in Saw X, and they are just as bloody (sometimes literally) as anything you’d expect to see in one of these films, but here the ways in which the traps are laid out have a much more improvised quality to them, which makes them a bit more interesting this time. In previous films, the traps have all been meticulously designed down to the letter, ready for virtually any possibility including the least likely one, but in Saw X they have the feel of something that Kramer put together right at the last minute, which given we see his reaction to being conned in real time is a very likely possibility. In a way, that makes some of these traps more dangerous, because they seem as though they haven’t been properly tested by either Kramer or his loyal companion Amanda, making the ultimate outcome for some of them a little less certain. It even gets to a point where both Kramer and Amanda begin seriously considering if they’ve gone too far, which is something given that would later come up with trap ideas such as pits full of dirty needles and pendulums that slice open peoples’ guts.

Even though Saw X is certainly one of the better films in this franchise, if not among the very best, there are still some things to criticise about it. It is one of those Saw films that rely so heavily on certain characters doing certain things at exactly the right time, which can stretch credibility in a series that has long since dropped any sense of realism, and makes certain reveals feel particularly convenient for the plot. There’s also a point early on when it shows a torture scene involving a brutal eye-sucking device, but the way it’s included here gives off the strong vibe that it was the result of a producer’s note that dictated a torture scene had to happen at this point in a Saw film, since it ends up having almost nothing to do with the rest of the movie. You’ll also be asking yourself a number of other logical questions about how Kramer was able to construct all these traps in such a short space of time, or even how he was able to magically transport his iconic Billy the Puppet down to Mexico for this one-off torture session.

However, if you’re just along for the ride and eager to find some new depth to a franchise that birthed the term “torture porn”, then Saw X should definitely mark the spot.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Saw X is one of the strongest sequels in the horror franchise, for its in-depth humanisation of main villain John Kramer, played by a never-better Tobin Bell, and its more personal revenge tale, while still giving most of everything fans want to see in a Saw film, from ridiculously convoluted traps to nonsensical gore.

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