Saw X is a great return to form that relies more on character than exploitation while still providing the bloodiest entry yet!
PLOT: Set between the events of SAW I and II, a sick and desperate John travels to Mexico for a risky and experimental medical procedure in hopes of a miracle cure for his cancer – only to discover the entire operation is a scam to defraud the most vulnerable. Armed with a newfound purpose, John returns to his work, turning the tables on the con artists in his signature visceral way through a series of ingenious and terrifying traps.
REVIEW: When you think of the Saw franchise, Tobin Bell is likely at the top of the list. His absence from the last entry, Spiral, left many of us missing the actor. As a massive Saw fan I can’t say how excited I was when they said we’d finally be getting our John Kramer story. And being set between the events of the first two films gives limitless possibility. And the filmmakers make sure to fully take advantage of that here. Because Saw X isn’t just a love letter to fans of the franchise, it’s a great entry point for those who have never even watched a Saw before.
Opening on John Kramer getting chemotherapy, we really get a great glimpse at how desperate he is for a cure. So when one presents itself, it’s not hard to see why John would go for it. They do a good job of not making John seem like too much of a sucker. This is just a man desperate to live and that’s commendable. Tobin Bell gives a fantastic performance here. It was great to be able to spend so much time with him after only brief interactions in the past. The John Kramer character has always been so interesting and I think so much of the success of Saw has to do with his gravitas.
I was a little worried that the film would mostly serve as John seeking retribution against those who did him wrong. But that’s not entirely the case. Sure, those who scammed him will be put through some tests (AKA traps) but this isn’t a revenge mission. The entire dynamic of the traps even feels different here. Since most of the series, we’ve been seeing traps formulated by Amanda and Hoffman, John’s message was lost a little bit in favor of revenge/retribution. But with John at the helm, things are taken back to the place that makes Jigsaw so interesting a character: he’s trying to teach lessons in his own messed-up way. He wants people to succeed.
The return of Shawnee Smith’s Amanda has been seen all over the promotion and it’s such a welcome return to the franchise. Her dynamic with John was always great and felt like it was cut short in the third film. And trust me when I tell you: Amanda’s got quite the sense of humor. I was honestly shocked at how funny the movie is. That’s probably not something you’re expecting to hear from a Saw movie but even more that it fits with the tone of the series. It’s not like John Kramer is quipping left and right. But I’m sure any addition of humor is going to annoy some fans. I find humor in the dark so I thought it worked well.
Saw X is easily the most accessible the series has been since the first film. I imagine this will help with the box office as there was a certain point (somewhere around part 6) where things got overly convoluted. But this does a great job of reassessing the strengths and weaknesses and really leaning into those strengths. One thing that really stands out is the increase in the amount of time the subjects have for their games. The movies often have it comically short, but they’ve set it at 3 minutes across the board. You just have to ignore that going into shock doesn’t really exist in the world of Saw.
Kevin Greutert returns to the director’s chair and gives us the best-looking Saw film yet. There are all of those familiar music cues and editing choices. But after the last few entries have been all over the place in quality/style, it’s nice to see a return to form. Though, it’ll always be funny to see the “Breaking Bad Filter” whenever something is set in Mexico. The movie manages to carve a visual identity of its own while still honoring what came before. I’m sure Greutert being around since the beginning as the editor has a lot to do with that.
Admittedly, Saw X does take a little too long to get going, taking on a bit of a different pace than other entries. And if you’ve seen the trailer then it’s a lot of waiting around for what you already know. But I can’t stress this enough: this is more of a character piece about John Kramer. Sure, there are traps and several are quite memorable. But it’s the characters that standout more so than ever. From the drug-addicted Gabriella, who Amanda sees herself in, to the struggling veterinarian, the victims feel more dimensional than ever. However, the main doctor behind the scam is a bit too one-note evil for me. Especially when she’s literally sharing scenes with such morally grey characters in John and Amanda.
When it comes to Saw, there’s nothing the viewer anticipates more than the big twist at the end. And while we obviously can’t get into it, I feel I need to address it in some way. Because, unfortunately, this is a very weak spot in the film. It lacks the wow factor and leaves things on a bit of a dissatisfying note. It left me going “Wait, THAT’s the twist?” which is never the desired reaction. However, there is something in the post-credits that made up for the disappointing final act.
Ultimately I enjoyed Saw X and hope that they continue from here. There’s plenty of space that can exist between the first two films so I wouldn’t be shocked if we got several more sequels set in this period. And I ultimately welcome them. There’s always going to be the issue of the actors looking 20 years older but that’s because they are. It would have been more annoying to see Dial of Destiny style de-aging. I’m a big Saw fan so my opinion is probably biased but it’s hard not to ignore all of the successes in this film. While the pacing and weak final act certainly are a problem, Saw X provides more insight into one of horror’s most intriguing figures. And with 6 years since John Kramer’s last on-screen appearance, I was clamoring to witness another Jigsaw game.
SAW X is IN THEATERS EVERYWHERE ON SEPTEMBER 29TH, 2023.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/saw-x-review/