With ten movies under its belt, the Saw franchise is one of the most prolific horror series out there. However, these movies weren’t all hits, especially the later entries in the series. When it was announced that’d we be getting a tenth installment in the series, reception was mixed to say the least. Could the series handle another mediocre movie? What story was left to even tell? Despite the reservations, the hype around the movie grew as more and more information was released. When it was announced that veteran Kevin Greutert would be returning to the series alongside Shawnee Smith, something resembling hope started to bloom in the Saw community. With Saw X having finally been released, it’s time to take an extensive look at the movie and determine if it’s the pick-me-up the series needed, or if it’s the final nail in the coffin for one of the most iconic franchises in horror history.
Saw X – The Set-Up
Before we get started, this is your warning that there are going to be lots and lots of spoilers for Saw X, and I highly encourage you to go watch the movie before you keep reading.
One of the boldest things this series ever did was kill off its main antagonist in Saw III. Unfortunately, while this decision was unique and jaw-dropping, it has been a perpetual problem. How do you shoehorn John Kramer into a Saw movie that takes place years after he died? Saw X solves this problem with the most obvious, yet never-used solution: you don’t. Instead of trying to cram John into a movie where he doesn’t belong, Saw X simply takes place before he ever died, sometime before Saw II. This simple yet elegant solution allows John to play a central part in the story without fear of retcons or distracting flashbacks.
Saw II is one of the most popular films in the series, and a big part of that has to do with the amount of time we get to spend with John. Tobin Bell is captivating to watch on-screen, and the more that we get to watch him as John the better. Saw X goes back to the roots of Saw II by actually having John play a major part in the film’s plot. In fact, for the first time, John is actually the main character of the movie. We learn more than we ever have about the way John acts when he isn’t being Jigsaw, while also seeing how his deadly “hobby”, as he puts it, influences every facet of his being. In the first half-hour of the movie, we watch as John, struggling to deal with his worsening cancer, learns about an experimental treatment. Long-time Saw fans may recognize that this very treatment is the one that John is denied insurance coverage for in Saw VI, making this the first of many fun call-backs to the previous installments in the series. John flies to Mexico City and goes through the treatment, only to learn that it was all a scam orchestrated. Filled with rage, John decides it’s time to play a game.
With the help of Amanda, John kidnaps those responsible for scamming him and sets up some of the most intriguing traps the series has seen. As the franchise has gone on, the traps have gotten larger and more complex. While these certainly can be cool to watch, there are a few major drawbacks. These traps are simply unrealistic, with incredible leaps in imagination having to be taken to assume that John, Amanda, or even Hoffman, could have possibly built them. Elaborate traps can also have an impact on the believability of the film’s timeline. As stated, the traps got more elaborate with time, so these traps need to feel like they could have been featured in Saw II or III. This was a major failure in Jigsaw, and was part of the reason that the twist of the movie failed. Luckily, Saw X absolutely nails its traps. Not only are they reasonable in scale, but each trap is made out of scavenged medical equipment that John believably could have gotten his hands on.
The traps in Saw X also break an unfortunate trend seen throughout Saw 3D, Jigsaw, and Spiral: people actually survive their traps. While it can be entertaining to see people die in horrifically unique ways, having every character fail their test ultimately leads to a predictable, boring, and anti-climactic plot. Traps lose all tension and anxiety when you know that the character is likely going to die, however, Saw X starts off its game by having a character survive a trap where he must cut off two bombs that have been wired to his arms. Not only is this trap brutal in its simplicity and incredibly hard to watch, but it establishes that these traps are going to be unpredictable, successfully keeping you on the edge of your seat for the rest of the film.
Each trap that follows this is better than the last. In a departure from previous films, the rest of the traps all take place in one room, meaning that the cast of characters gets to watch as they’re brutalized one-by-one. Not only does this keep each trap fresh, but it builds a sense of anxiety amongst the test-subjects as they wait in horror and anticipation to see what their own trap will be. While all of the traps in the film are fantastic, two particular standouts include Valentina’s trap, where she must cut off her leg and suck out bone marrow, and Mateo’s trap, where he must cut away part of his brain. Another one of Saw X’s traps really stands out, but not for the reason you might think. Gabriela, one of the players in this twisted game, is a drug addict who went along with the medical scam in order to feed her addiction. While John is cold towards the girl, treating her the same as he does with any victim, Amanda struggles to keep her emotions at bay. As seen in previous films, Amanda wrestled with addiction herself, and she rightly points out to John that “…sometimes we get sucked into things that are against our nature. Drugs are as powerful as they are vicious”. Not only is this a fantastic moment for Amanda’s character, showing how her own experiences with drugs have given her a perspective John doesn’t have, but this scene makes a point of highlighting John’s hypocrisy and flawed morals. This series has never made him out to be a hero, but this particular scene does a great job of reminding us that John is still the villain, even when he’s the protagonist.
As with many other films in the series, Saw X does a great job of layering its’ twists. Near the climax of the film we learn that Parker, a man we believed to be another victim of the scam, was actually the lover of Cecilia Pederson, the twisted mind behind the whole operation. Parker manages to hijack the game, set Cecilia free, and force John into her trap. Not only does John have to now fight for his life, but he must do so against Carlos, a young, innocent boy that Cecilia has abducted. The film continues to build tension and genuinely tricks you into believing that Parker and Cecilia are going to best John and Amanda and get away scot-free. Of course, before they can make their full getaway, these two make a classic mistake: underestimating the power of John Kramer’s foresight. Right as the two are about to grab a bag of stolen money and leave, it’s revealed that John and Amanda knew about Parker’s ruse with the help of Mark Hoffman. They had planned to let him free Cecilia and try to escape. Knowing that the two would be driven by greed, they booby-trapped the money. As soon as the bag of money is lifted, the room that Parker and Cecilia are in locks down and the two must fight to the death to survive, ultimately ending with Cecilia killing Parker and ending up forever trapped.
This is the part where an otherwise great twist falls apart a little. Saw X goes out of its way to make Cecilia unbearably unlikeable, and it succeeds in making the audience hate her. Probably too much. Without exaggeration, Cecilia is arguably the most genuinely evil character the series has ever seen, and, yes, that is including Hoffman. While it’s great that the film actually has characters survive their traps, the audience spends the whole movie eagerly awaiting the moment that Cecilia loses her smug smirk and is brutally killed. Make no mistake, it is implied that Cecilia is going to die a slow, painful death trapped in that room, but this is admittedly a bit anticlimactic for a series that’s famous for viciously slaughtering those who deserve it (and, often, those that don’t). All of this isn’t to say that the twist completely flops. It is still a thrilling and satisfying moment to hear “Hello Zepp” play as Cecilia and Parker realize that they’ve been outmatched, it just could have been heightened by a more visceral fate for Cecilia.
If you felt a little let down by watching John, Amanda, and Carlos walk into the sunset after a strangely unsatisfying final trap, don’t worry, Saw X still has more in store for you. As the credits roll and audience members start to file out of their seats, a familiar sound can be heard, and the lights in Saw’s iconic bathroom turn on. After an entire movie teasing us with Hoffman’s presence, we finally get a full reveal. As the story’s final loose thread is wrapped up, we get to see Costas Mandylor, in his full glory, deliver what is probably the funniest line in the series’ history: “Out of all the men to cheat, you pick John Kramer? I mean, I call that epic bad luck”. The theater was electric as soon as Hoffman came on screen, and I would genuinely recommend seeing this movie if only to see this final scene.
Saw X was a success for the series that no one expected, and it now leaves the franchise in an interesting predicament. With how well the film is doing, it’s incredibly likely that we’ll get an 11th entry, but there are only so many movies they can shove into the timeline before things get a little complicated. Regardless, Saw X should leave any fans of the series with hope that the franchise still has more to show, and it’s with baited breath that we wait to see what comes next.
Saw X (2023) - A Bloody Revival - Malevolent Dark
Director: Kevin Greutert
Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:33