Directed: Kevin Greutert
Cast: Tobin Bell, Michael Beach, Shawnee Smith, Steven Brand, Paulette Hernandez, Octavio Hinojosa, Renata Vaca, Synnøve Macody Lund, Joshua Okamoto
Released: 28th September 2023 (UK cinemas)
The evolution of the Saw series might be just as intricate as the narrative of its later sequels: going from a low-budget contained thriller to a gore-tastic horror blockbuster sure is one hell of a satisfying journey. In that time, its central villain, the legendary John Kramer (aka The Jigsaw Killer), went from an enigmatic cancer patient to a full-blown messiah, eventually passing the trap-setting baton to his twisted apprentices. The latest entry in the series, aptly titled Saw X (and no, Kramer doesn’t go to space in this one), aims to deliver on the promise of a back-to-basics, Jigsaw-centered sequel that hearkens back to the glory days of the Whannell-penned trilogy. And, shockingly, in a franchise so known for its twists, Saw X delivers the greatest one of all: not only is this a fantastic Saw sequel, but this is undoubtedly the best horror film of the year.
Set between the events of the Bathroom Trap in the original Saw and the Nerve Gas House game of Saw II, the tenth entry takes a step back and focuses on John Kramer (Tobin Bell), the cancer patient, understanding that he only has a few months left, Kramer decides to seek unapproved treatment from a Norwegian doctor, Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund), who operates in a secret facility outside Mexico City. Her reasoning for such strange offshore business practices is due to alleged “Big Pharma” raids and the FDA rejecting their treatment methods in the United States. Desperate and dismayed, John transfers the hefty treatment sum and travels to Mexico in hopes of curing his illness… only to realize the entire operation is a scam, tailor-made to prey on terminally ill cancer patients. It is at this very moment that John Kramer leaves the scene, and along comes the twisted mastermind Jigsaw.
While the film does make an active effort to humanize John Kramer, the sheer hypocrisy of his methods shines through: the latest entry is helmed by the franchise veteran, Kevin Greutert, arguably the only person since James Wan to truly depict Kramer as the self-righteous serial killer he is. The Jigsaw we see here is one who’s not only gasping for air – he desperately wants to be remembered for his twisted legacy. While John and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) may share a special bond, it’s clear that the power dynamic here is one that’s more in line with a cult leader as opposed to a mentor. Much like his latest test subjects, Jigsaw preys on the weak and the vulnerable, which makes the central conflict of this entry so much more compelling and morally complex.
It’s clear that Greutert (the world’s greatest Saw scholar, at this point) set out to create a sequel that challenges the faux philosophy of Jigsaw, albeit one that’s trying to empathize with the struggles of John Kramer through the gory Saw framework. It’s this flirtation with the idea of a revenge tale that ultimately makes the tenth film so satisfying, subverting the typical Saw structure (bye-bye, opening trap!) while keeping all the core elements intact. Of course, the ingenious traps are once again a gleefully vile spectacle and one that feels like a perfect symbiosis between the original film and its sequels. by setting the entire game in a single room, the added factor of public executions makes the action seem so much more disturbing. As shockingly gnarly as some of these traps may be, the more impressive part here is the extensive downtime between each of them, allowing for tension to simmer and instil genuine fear of deadly machinery. Saw X may have moments of dark humour, but don’t be mistaken: this is a genuine horror film from start to finish.
There’s something incredibly effective in the sheer simplicity of Saw X. One may call this a legacy sequel, others will deem it a prequel, but it seems like the people behind the film weren’t concerned with those questions at all. It’s just a delightfully brutal Saw entry, one that is surprisingly patient with its narrative threads and mature enough to poke fun at some of the sillier aspects of the series. Unlike its predecessors, Saw X doesn’t attempt to fool the viewer with an outré twist – instead, Greutert wants the audience to take a closer look at John Kramer and maybe even see a glimpse of humanity within him.
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