Director: Kevin Greutert
Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund, Steven Brand, Michael Beach, Renata Vaca
Runtime: 1 hr 59 mins
Rating: R21 (Strong Violence and Gore)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 19 October 2023
Synopsis: John Kramer (Tobin Bell) is back in SAW X, the most intriguing, unexpected, and chilling installment of the global horror franchise. Exploring the untold chapter of John / Jigsaw’s most personal game, the film is set between the events of Saw I and II. A sick and desperate John travels to Mexico for a risky and experimental medical procedure, which he hopes will be a miracle cure for his cancer. But he discovers the operation is a scam to defraud the most vulnerable. Armed with a newfound purpose, John returns to his unique work, turning the tables on the con artists in his signature visceral way, through terrifying and ingenious traps.
Hard to believe that it has been close to two decades since ‘Saw’, which saw (no pun intended) former civil engineer John Kramer (played by Tobin Bell) devise medieval-looking contraptions to test how far his victims were prepared to go in order to survive. To be sure, it was only in ‘Saw II’ that we found out that Kramer was dying from an inoperable frontal lobe tumour, which he would die from by the end of ‘Saw III’.
Those who have followed the franchise religiously would also know that subsequent instalments got increasingly tangled with present-day continuity and flashbacks to Kramer’s past, struggling to advance the narrative while retaining the series’ iconic anti-protagonist. That the last chapter ‘Spiral’ floundered at the box office just reinforced how significant Jigsaw’s presence is to the success of the franchise, and it is no wonder that ‘Saw X’ decides to make him front and centre.
In an obvious but nonetheless inspired master stroke, veteran ‘Saw’ editor-turned-director Kevin Greutert has decided for ‘Saw X’ to be a direct sequel to the very first ‘Saw’ (and therefore situating it between ‘Saw’ and ‘Saw II’). Not only would this justify making the still dying but very much still alive Kramer the lead in the movie, it would also allow the film to bring back fan favourite Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith), who survived a reverse bear trap in ‘Saw’ and became an apprentice to Kramer.
Somewhat contrary to formula, ‘Saw X’ takes its time to set up the circumstances by which Kramer would cross paths with his victims. Staring down the months he has to live, Kramer finds hope from fellow cancer support group member Henry (Michael Beach), who introduces him to an experimental programme by Dr. Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund). After securing what seems to be a coveted spot on her programme, Kramer boards a plane for Mexico and forks over an exorbitant sum for what is a big fat scam.
It should come as no surprise that Kramer is furious, and with the help of Amanda, decides to instruct Cecilia and three of her colluders in his code of ethics. Like we said, it does take an hour before we get to the traps proper, but Greutert’s effort to build out the arc of betrayal which Kramer suffers elevates this entry above the excuses in ‘torture porn’ which many of its predecessors were guilty of. Indeed, the emphasis on Kramer makes this probably the most character-driven entry, and by making it personal, beefs up the stakes even more.
Even if it takes longer to get there, ‘Saw X’ doesn’t disappoint at all in the gore department. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the ‘games’ involve the use of Leonardo Gigli’s primitive wire cutter to extract an amount of bone marrow, drilling into one’s skull to remove a portion of cerebral tissue, and a high-powered radiation canon that blisters skin dark and crispy. In between, devotees will also lap up the trademarks from the ‘Saw’ universe, such as the appearance of Billy the Puppet riding an old-fashioned red tricycle.
Credit too goes to writing duo Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg for devising Cecilia as a cunning enemy, who changes the game for Kramer in the last 20 minutes in surprising and deeply satisfying ways. Oh yes, while many instalments have struggled to match the original with a similarly devious twist at the end, ‘Saw X’ succeeds with just the right combination of nastiness, smarts and comeuppance. We might even go so far as to say that it has probably the most rewarding payoff we have seen in a ‘Saw’ movie for a long while, and that is also thanks to the effort spent developing Kramer as a character than just exploiting him as an icon.
Though ‘Halloween’ and ‘The Exorcist’ did likewise, we dare say ‘Saw X’s’ back to basics approach is the most successful resurrection of the three thus far, wiping away the complications of its contorted predecessors and taking a far more focused and deliberate plotting to set up its games. Fans will also cheer the coda at the end, which promises the return of yet another Jigsaw apprentice. Despite a dying Kramer, ‘Saw X’ breathes new life into the franchise, and we dare say gives reason to be excited about this Halloween mainstay again.
(Probably the best 'Saw' sequel to date, 'Saw X' goes back to basics to deliver a satisfyingly character-driven revenge tale without losing any of its signature gore)
Review by Gabriel Chong