As a self-professed SAW-head, I will admit that anytime we get a brand-new Saw movie, I’m happier than Billy riding his bicycle to greet a new victim. Good or bad, I find the films in this franchise to be endlessly entertaining (and rewatchable), with Saw II and Saw VI being amongst my favorites from the series. Well, now there’s a new contender for my favorite Saw movie because Saw X is that damn great. It’s hard to believe that a tenth film in a horror franchise could deliver the goods as well as it does (so to speak), as usually with different series, the longer they go on, the more diminishing the returns are.
But Saw X feels like an absolutely miraculous achievement and was a completely enthralling viewing experience. Directed by Kevin Greutert and co-written by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, Saw X brings about a new approach to the Saw-style of storytelling while still feeling very much like the films we know and love. This latest sequel goes back to its roots by giving us more time with both John Kramer (Tobin Bell) and Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith), confidently demonstrating that there are more games to be played in the Saw-iverse.
While I do enjoy several of the later sequels, this tenth installment shows just how hugely detrimental it was to lose these characters after Saw III because both Bell and Smith, and the shared dynamic between their respective characters, bring so much to the proverbial table. And it’s truly just so freaking awesome to have them back for Saw X.
The events of Saw X take place between the original Saw and Saw II. John Kramer’s cancer is getting worse, and he’s facing the end of the proverbial road as his doctors have given up on curing his illness at this point. One day, John finds out about a controversial medical treatment involving gene manipulation from a friend (Michael Beach) that’s being led by Doctor Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund) in Mexico City. After contacting Dr. Pederson, John heads to Mexico to receive highly experimental care from Cecilia and the rest of her team: Mateo (Octavio Hinojosa), Valentina (Paulette Hernández), and Gabriela (Renata Vaca).
After the “procedure,” John quickly realizes that Pederson and her cohorts are nothing but a bunch of phoneys after he discovers that his treatment was a total sham and that Cecilia is the mastermind of a group who likes to prey on those who are extremely desperate for a medical miracle as a means of making a quick buck (or in this case, thousands and thousands of dollars). Determined to make things right the “Jigsaw” way, John enlists the help of his protégé Amanda to put Dr. Pederson and her accomplices through a series of tests that are more about a “reawakening” than outright “retribution” (even though they all probably deserve that).
Even though Saw X is a bit more straightforward than its predecessors, that doesn’t mean that Greutert and company don’t have some twists and surprises in store for viewers, so get ready for all kinds of grisly fun to be had here.
There are a lot of reasons to love Saw X, but its biggest asset is how much it puts to rest some of the things we’ve come to expect with a Saw sequel (overly complicated storylines, quick edits, and a grungy palette), and puts the focus squarely on the plight of John Kramer, humanizing him even more so here than we have ever seen before. Saw VI definitely does a great job of that as well, but this story takes it all even further, as we now know just how much the American healthcare system has continually failed him, and John is truly backed up into a corner as he confronts his imminent death at the start of Saw X.
Sure, Jigsaw is a bit twisted in his approach and methodology, but he does want to give people a chance to gain that necessary moment of moral clarity and find it within themselves to act as their own redeemers. That is the driving force of Saw X. The people he captures here are all deserving of a horrible fate (to scam deathly ill folks out of their money is so viciously cruel), but John sees the games that he has created for them as the perfect way for the players to truly understand the atrocity of their actions and come out better for the experience if they are willing to play—and can survive it all too, of course.
Saw X is also the perfect vehicle for the gravitas that we often see in Bell’s performances, Saw or otherwise. And while I’ve always enjoyed his portrayal of John Kramer in the other Saw films he’s been involved with, Tobin’s truly working on another level here, as the script from Stolberg and Goldfinger really gives him the space to explore what John is going through and what he’s experiencing in ways we’ve never seen in the series before. I’ve always enjoyed watching John playfully toy around with the players of his games (I could watch another hour of him just messing with Donnie Wahlberg in Saw II), but in this, all of that is stripped away when John experiences a moment of humility once he realizes he’s been played.
And even after the games begin in Saw X, this iteration of Jigsaw just feels different. I don’t want to say he’s necessarily more introspective than in other films, because that feels like a slight against his other performances, but this story allows Bell to portray a man who has been done dirty in such a heinous way, that my heart literally hurt for him once the character fully realized Dr. Pederson’s stunt and what that meant for him as well as the rest of their victims. Essentially, this is the long-winded way of me saying that Bell’s work in Saw X truly blew me away and I genuinely think this is his best performance in a series that features so much stellar acting from him already.
I also have to say that allowing Amanda to be so heavily involved with everything in Saw X really added even more dimension to her character, and it feels like in some ways it even reframes her character’s actions and emotions in both Saw II and III, which is a pretty fantastic feat for the screenwriters to pull off. Shawnee is really excellent here, and I just loved her character’s interactions with both John and those playing his game so much.
Because this does take place between the first and second Saw movies, I don’t know exactly if there will be a Saw XI or not, but what I will say is that seeing both Smith and Bell reunited here made me realize just how much I’d love to get more from these actors and their characters, so I’m hopeful of at least one more round with Jigsaw and Amanda nonetheless.
As far as the traps/games in Saw X are concerned, they are downright gnarly as all hell. I would never give anything away about what they entail, but I will say that there is one in particular that left me groaning and grimacing because it was that much of a gut punch. Also, during this sequence, my partner and I were grasping each other’s hands in horror as it all unfolded because it was a super visceral viewing experience, even by Saw standards (and we’re not the typically squeamish types, so bravo to all involved). But there’s a lot of ingenuity on display when it comes to these new traps, and I imagine they’ll become just as iconic as so many of the others have over the years.
I’m not sure if you can tell from all my gushing thus far that I absolutely loved Saw X, and what Kevin Greutert has achieved in this tenth film perfectly walks that line of giving audiences something new while delivering an experience that Saw diehards will deeply appreciate as well. I don’t think anyone but Greutert could have directed Saw X if I’m being honest, as he’s been a driving force in this franchise since the very beginning, and his passion for this world and these characters is evident in every single frame of the film.
And if we do happen to get a Saw XI, Greutert definitely needs to be the driving force behind that one as well, because when you put him in the driver’s seat, that’s really when the franchise flourishes.
Oh, and for those who are curious, there is a mid-credits scene that you definitely will want to stick around for.
Movie Score: 4.5/5