Think about this fact for a second. The Saw franchise’s original run ended with the 2010 sequel, Saw 3D. Since that sequel’s poor reception, Lionsgate has tried twice, with varying results, to revive its money-making series. If the belated 2017 sequel Jigsaw was a lukewarm attempt to reboot things, the mix of police procedural and Torture Porn in Spiral marked only a marginal step forward. Certainly, Spiral wasn’t well-received enough to follow through on its new story path. So here we are, two years later, and Lionsgate has tasked regular collaborator Kevin Greutert (Jackals) with getting back to basics. Maybe there’s something in the water or it’s Tobin Bell’s return, but Saw X has critics in a surprisingly agreeable mood.
Cancer patient John Kramer has found some brief sense of purpose as the ‘Jigsaw’ killer. Yet as the cancer inside him continues to gnaw away, he desperately turns to a new shred of hope. At an experimental treatment clinic hidden away outside Mexico City, Kramer receives what he believes is a lifesaving treatment. However, when it turns out to be an elaborate fraud, Kramer unleashes his fury with a new batch of ‘Jigsaw’ traps.
Saw X a Surprisingly Contemplative Sequel That Still Delivers the Requisite Gore
New series writers Josh Stolberb and Peter Goldfinch join the returning director of Saw VI and Saw 3D Kevin Greutert. Maybe a pair of new scribes is what the nearly 20-year franchise needed. Neither a true prequel or sequel, Saw X defines ‘unnecessary’ series addition. Despite this inconvenient fact, Saw X feels surprisingly fresh and, yes, like it should exist. What’s also immediately surprising about the movie’s first act is its more reflective and almost gentle tone. Aside from the torture scene teased on the promotional posters, Saw X spends more time focused on John Kramer’s desperation giving the anti-hero an actual character arc.
Despite this inconvenient fact, Saw X feels surprisingly fresh and, yes, like it should exist.
However, diehard Saw fans need not worry – Greutert hasn’t forgot what originally draw audiences to the series. Once John Kramer assembles the guilty offenders, Saw X gleefully slides back into familiar territory. There’s a handful of cringe-inducing traps that should have audiences wincing and looking through their fingers at the screen. Traps include an amputation by gigli saw, some self-performed brain surgery, and blood waterboarding. All the grisly carnage once expects is here on display across a very spry near two hours. We also get a little bit of dark humor as the sequel subtly takes aim at conspiracy theories and ‘big pharma’. When Kramer describes himself as something of a ‘life coach’, you can’t help but laugh a little.
Saw X Turns Its Titular Character From Villain to Antihero to “Hero”
Though horror fans always flocked to see the Jigsaw Killer dispense his own brand of justice, Saw X goes the extra mile. This time around John Kramer isn’t so much antihero – the sequel doubles down and makes him the hero. This in part stems from the amount of time audiences spend with Kramer. Perhaps more than any of the other movies, Tobin Bell gets a lot of character here to bite into. And Bell obliges with a weary and sympathetic turn – there’s more John Kramer, less Jigsaw. In addition, Saw X substitutes a more conventional villain in Synnøve Macody Lund’s downright evil, ‘Cecilia Pederson’. The juxtaposition between Jigsaw and his moral code and the psychopathic Pederson makes it much easier to empathize with John Kramer.
This time around John Kramer isn’t so much antihero – the sequel doubles down and makes him the hero.
Another interesting layer to Saw X is its commitment to Shawnee Smith’s Jigsaw apprentice, Amanda Young. Instead of merely including the character for the sake of continuity, Saw X makes this prequel/sequel something of an origin story for Amanda. Did we need one? Not really. Nevertheless, it works as the character arc on display lends more unexpected weight to the story. We get more insight into what drove the supporting character in Saw II and Saw III. Moreover, the father-daughter relationship between Kramer and Young feels earned here. And Shawnee Smith joins Bell in giving a strong performance in a franchise not recognized for that sort of thing.
Saw X May Be Unnecessary, But It Far Exceeds Expectations
Nothing about Saw X feels necessary in the grand scheme of the franchise. Let’s face, Tobin Bell’s ‘Jigsaw’ died way back in the 2006 entry, Saw III. And this sequel, set between the first and second movies, is really just a side journey allowing Lionsgate to wring a few more bucks out of the box office. In spite of this issue, Saw X is grisly fun for horror fans with a bit of dark humor and a much more emotional focus on its antihero and his apprentice. In fact, the tenth entry offers Bell more character with which to work than any other previous Saw movie. Longtime fans should rejoice at what’s arguably the best movie in the franchise since the 2004 original.