Saw X – Reinvigorating a Franchise?
Once upon a timer, SAW was appointment cinema. For the first seven years of its run of horror dominance, one could count on a new SAW movie coming out the weekend before Halloween, from the 2004 original to the mercy killing that was SAW 3D/The Final Chapter. In the decade plus since that supposed curtain call for Twisted Pictures’ flagship franchise, the two subsequent films, 2017’s Jigsaw and 2021’s Spiral: From the Book of SAW proved to be divisive among the fanbase, to say nothing about their failure to progress the timeline established by their seven predecessors. Instead, one served as a reboot by way of prequel, and the other being something of a spiritual successor to the franchise, while feeling just outside of the established meta.
It stands to reason that the more diehard fans were apprehensive with the announcement of SAW X, even when it was revealed that the events of this tenth installment would take place between films one and two. This did mean that we were guaranteed the returns of Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith as John Kramer and Amanda Young respectively, giving us two stars whose careers were forever improved by their involvement in this billion-dollar franchise.
Then came the two trap reveals: one involving the victim performing brain surgery on themselves, and another involving tubes attached at the eye sockets and a high-powered vacuum.
Now we’re cooking with gas.
SAW X sets John Kramer up as the somewhat sympathetic anti-hero, albeit one without much time left. His terminal brain cancer has left him with months at most, even with his insistence that he has much work left to do. At a cancer support group, he learns of the godhead Dr. Finn Pederson, who has purportedly found a way to cure even the most vicious forms of cancer. John contacts the doctor and is set up with his daughter Cecilia (Synnove Macody Lund) in Mexico City. All seems to be well until it isn’t, and John learns that he is far from the only long-shot patient that has been duped by Dr. Pederson and her team of locals posing as miracle workers. Enlisting Amanda, the most seasoned of his reformees, John looks to test his would-be saviors, condemning them to a round of games filled with dread and dismemberment.
Admittedly, a runtime of 118 minutes may create some apprehension in even the most devoted of fans. Five minutes longer than the theatrical version of SAW III, which one could argue is the most melodramatic of the franchise thus far, is a tall order for an IP that has made its bones on scenes that take place in the span of one to three minutes, depending on the trap. That said, it takes a lot of story to get to the “trap plot,” to borrow a term coined by James A. Janisse of Dead Meat fame, and the lone trap that we do get early on has a rather unique twist to it that is best left for potential viewers to see for themselves. It’s not that the melodrama isn’t unbearable. It’s quite the opposite, as we get to see a side of Tobin Bell’s acting that we haven’t had a chance to see in this franchise; that is, as someone with things happening to him, rather than him having the upper hand or control, as we’re so used to seeing. By no means does it glorify the morally ambiguous John Kramer, but I have to say that few moments in a horror film have made my heart sink quite like the tequila bottle toss when John realizes what is actually happening in the sticks of Mexico.
The traps pull zero punches, each one bringing plenty of blood and gore as is to be expected. As the people in the traps are masquerading as medical personnel, there is a heightened focus on medical procedures and more foundational human matter, from bone marrow to brain tissue. Whereas previous traps have had a rugged and handcrafted feel, these have much more, dare I say, surgical precision, particularly one trap involving a pair of wire saws. Are there still bloody messes left in the abandoned warehouse where the latest game transpires? Absolutely, and given that much of it is self-inflicted, it makes for a great deal of wincing, teeth-grinding, and the odd stomach-turning.
Tobin Bell’s performance here is a career best. When he is the calculating Jigsaw, he is unnerving, matter-of-fact, and the worst kind of bastard: a bastard who is, in some sense, right. But when John has his more human moments, particularly with young Carlos, whose bike John helps fix in what at first seems like a moment of “he’s an engineer, of course he can fix that.” Language barriers be damned, we get a Chekhov’s phrase in this scene that comes back around in the final act, and it proves to be satisfying. Yes, seeing the Jigsaw Killer show any kind of humanity is odd, but his ethos has always been to exclude the innocent, and of anyone to be innocent in this grand scheme, let it be the youngin who just wants to ride his bicycle.
Adding to the pathos of the film are interactions between Amanda and John, something we only got so much of in SAW III, and Amanda was a vengeful, emotional wreck in that film. Here, she knows that the end is nigh for John, but she is still very much committed to his games and to putting folks through their paces. She is flawed, trying to keep her selfish tendencies at bay, but she is not totally unreachable, especially by her mentor. It is damn good to see Shawnee Smith back in the franchise after so long, and what a film to return to.
The hype is well-earned for SAW X. This is easily the strongest entry since the contentious-but-underrated SAW VI, and has garnered the most critical acclaim of any SAW film since the original. Writer Josh Stolberg has already talked on social media about SAW XI, and if future installments are going to bring the gore and gravitas of this newest game, then may the game never end.
SAW X is available on digital now, with a Blu-Ray/DVD release slated for November 21.
SAW X (2023)- Turns Back the Hands of Time to Deliver a Murderous Medical Melodrama - Malevolent Dark
Director: Kevin Greutert
Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:33