"Saw X" stars Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund, Steven Brand, Renata Vaca, and Michael Beach. Released on September 29, 2023, the film has John Kramer tormenting the con artists who wronged him.
The film was directed by Kevin Greutert, who also directed "Saw VI", "Saw 3D", "Jessabelle", "Visions", and "Jackals". It is the tenth installment in the "Saw" film series. If there's one person you should avoid messing with at all costs, it's a sadistic killer obsessed with setting deadly traps for his victims, John Kramer. Unfortunately, the folks who have the guts to con him don't seem to get the memo. After taking a back seat in favor of Chris Rock attempting and failing to reinvigorate the franchise, Mr. Jigsaw Killer finally returns to terrorize and brutally maim his victims, for better or worse. It depends on how people are now feeling about the disgusting and grisly franchise that kickstarted the careers of James Wan and Leigh Whannell. However, instead of continuing where "Spiral" left off, this latest installment takes audiences back to Kramer's early days to explore an untold part of his gruesome killing spree. Now that this franchise has reached the same amount of main installments as "Fast & Furious", does this film help it retain the spine-chilling and gross quality it's known for, or is it time for the Jigsaw Killer to just die already? Let's find out.
The story takes place weeks after the first "Saw" movie, where John Kramer (Bell) learns he's diagnosed with advanced brain cancer. After learning about a "miracle" cure that can stop his diagnosis, Kramer travels to Mexico. There, he meets the members of the operation team, led by Cecilia Pederson (Lund), who promises Kramer they have what it takes to remove the tumor. Unfortunately, following the operation, Kramer realizes that the tumor was never removed from his body. He also learned that the team of doctors were actually con artists who used their scheme to target vulnerable individuals and steal their money. With his apprentice, Amanda Young (Smith), Kramer embarks on another quest of retribution by abducting the con artists and subjecting them to his new series of fatal traps.
It bears repeating to some of my blog's newcomers that I'm not as much into the "Saw" movies as others. However, that doesn't mean I didn't watch some of them during my spare time. The only installments I remembered seeing so far were "Saw", "Saw 3D", "Jigsaw", and "Spiral", unfortunately. While I thought the former three were enjoyable pieces of torture porn, "Spiral" was just torture for my eyes, and not in a good way. Its attempt at doing something different was admirable, but the execution of its characters, tension, and traps was as horrific as the imposter Jigsaw Killer's voice. It wound up being the worst installment in the gory franchise, causing me to feel less enthusiastic about its tenth installment. However, my curiosity toward "Saw X" suddenly peaked when I heard the surprisingly good word of mouth for it from critics, a first in the franchise known for receiving mixed to negative reviews. That alone is enough for me to see if it actually found a silver lining in the film series that's all gore and no substance. After experiencing Kramer's sick, twisted game for the tenth time, I can definitely say that they have.
"Saw X" delivers exactly what this horror franchise is known for: a sadistic killer torturing his victims with his brutal "games" and plenty of fatalities from his traps. This isn't too much of a shock, considering these elements drive good business at the box office regardless of the quality. What's shocking about this film is how much meat it contains besides the barbaric "tests". The meat is, of course, the story, which has been plaguing the franchise since the sequel. After almost 20 decades of sequels filled with forgettable plots and one-dimensional characters, "Saw X" may have finally cracked the code in its storytelling despite its similar formula, and it turns out to be one of the highlights of the gore-obsessed franchise.
With "Saw" and its follow-ups painting John Kramer as a murderous, twisted psychopath with a creepy doll and pig costumes, "Saw X" showcases Kramer as a twisted psychopath with a humane side. As we all know, John Kramer isn't someone who can kill anyone he pleases, like most slasher antagonists. He only targets people who do terrible things and gives them a chance to redeem themselves by proving their will to live. Of course, by that, I mean forcing his victims to brutally injure themselves to escape the traps. "Saw X" showcases what made John Kramer a memorable horror villain and expresses his compassion during his quest for retribution, mainly his friendship with the young boy named Carlos (Jorge Briseño). It was a pretty risky gamble to make an anti-hero out of the franchise's antagonist. I mean, look at "Don't Breathe 2". Fortunately, through its contained yet twisty screenplay and Kevin Greutert's direction, the film managed to beat those odds. Even though some of its storytelling elements are hit-and-miss, it puts enough effort into its heart to make it more than just another blood-spewing, cash-grabbing sequel. Considering my experience with "Jigsaw" and "Spiral", I'm willing to take that over those movies any day.
Not only did the characterization of John Kramer work well in its favor, but it was also powered by Tobin Bell's performance, who's been playing the character since 2004. It's easy to admit that at the age of 81, Bell still has a way of giving his fans goosebumps with his menacing and raspy voice. However, Bell's shining moment was his dramatic side amid his wisdom and torturing ways, as he effectively portrays Kramer's vulnerability and hopelessness due to the character's brain cancer. The hopelessness in Kramer fits the film's theme of false hope, which the scheming con artists used on Kramer only for it to bite them in the butt regarding his traps. It's irony at its finest and satisfying to witness, even though two wrongs don't make a right. This development may not suit well for most of the franchise's fans, but I would consider it a refreshing step up for the Jigsaw Killer storytelling-wise.
Of course, Bell wasn't the only actor returning to the franchise, as Shawnee Smith also reprised her role as Kramer's apprentice, Amanda Young. I'm not overly familiar with this character because I haven't watched the sequels she's in. Regardless, I thought Smith did a good job portraying Young, who's as twisted as Kramer is. Then, there's Synnøve Macody Lund, who plays Cecilia Pederson, the leader of her con artist group who's more conniving and heartless than Kramer. She's someone we'd love to see get their just desserts, whether it's through torture or death, and Lund did a decent job making us feel that way through her performance.
But what about the traps and the kills, you ask? Well, I can tell you this: they're just as brutal and unsettling as a "Saw" movie can get. Even though the kill count is small, it's still satisfying in the film's practical effects and nightmarish vision to make fans cheer or gag. What makes them more disturbing is the build-up, which brings back the tension-filled and queasy feeling of seeing someone "surviving" the game that was absent in the previous installments. But, of course, I should remind you that if you have a weak stomach, you should not watch this film. As for the traps, the film has a couple that I thought were cleverly designed and gleefully gross, including the eye vacuum trap seen on the poster and the brain surgery "test" for Mateo (Octavio Hinojosa). Ten movies in, and the franchise still hasn't lost its footing with its gruesome ideas.
Overall, "Saw X" has the tools to satisfy the franchise's fans thirsty for blood and gross-out brutalities, but it also did the impossible of having a surprisingly heartfelt story amid its torturous ways. The plot does have its flaws regarding its formula. However, its decision to show it from Kramer's perspective is refreshing enough to breathe new life into the film series's narrative structure, a similar goal that "Spiral" failed to accomplish. With its decent cast (featuring Tobin Bell's stellar performance), Greutert's direction, suitable screenplay, and satisfying kills, "Saw X" is a huge improvement over the previous two installments that's also a welcoming return of Kramer's reign of retributed terror. If you enjoyed the other "Saw" movies, you'll likely get the same enjoyment from this latest installment. If not, then you're better off playing a different game instead.