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‘Saw X’ Review

Kramer vs. Scammer

By Will LasleyPublished 7 months ago 5 min read
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Saw X, which takes place between the events of Saw and Saw II, sees John Kramer (Tobin Bell) coming to grips with his brain cancer diagnosis and attempting to tie up loose ends during his limited time left on Earth. When a member of his cancer support group (Michael Beach) tells John that he was cured by a doctor (Synnøve Macody Lund) offering experimental treatment, John decides to travel to Mexico for the procedure. When it ends up being a scam, he decides that Dr. Pederson and her associates need to learn a lesson about the value of human life, and it’s time for them to play a game.

The announcement of Saw X initially left me with mixed feelings galore. For one, I was actually a big fan of Spiral, the Saw spin-off featuring Chris Rock as the star and executive producer, and I wasn’t too sure that I wanted more from the original series continuity. On the other hand, this one would actually have Tobin Bell, which is always a plus. This new film would also see the return of director Kevin Greutert and screenwriters Josh Stohlberg and Pete Goldfinger. Greutert, who edited the first four films in the series, as well as the eighth, had directed two Saw films prior this one: Saw VI, which I like, and Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, which I hate. Stohlberg and Goldfinger had also penned two previous entries: Jigsaw, which I hate, and Spiral, which again, I like. So all the evidence pointed to Saw X having a 50/50 shot of being any good.

Having said all of that, I’m not terribly surprised that I liked Saw X, but I am surprised that I loved it! This is a return to form in the best way possible. Not only did Greutert direct this film, but he was also the editor, and the Saw franchise is known for its intense, hectic editing. Normally I don’t care for this particular style (it’s the main reason I’m not a Baz Luhrmann fan), but in the Saw films, it works. It doesn’t feel like it’s preventing you from seeing anything, even though it did initially come about as a way of working around the first film’s ultra low budget. The visual chaos doesn’t come at the expense of the story or world-building (unlike Moulin Rouge!), but instead elevates the sense of panic. Cinematographer Nick Matthews also manages to recreate the same grimy aesthetic of the original movies, taking all the proper cues from OG director of photography David Armstrong. The return to this iconic visual style was a great way to instantly ingratiate longtime fans before taking some welcome chances, and I’ll get to those shortly. This is also another review where I’ll include a spoiler section, because there are two points I want to address that I also don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t seen it yet.

One of the strongest elements of the whole series is also Saw X’s biggest strength: Tobin Bell as John Kramer/Jigsaw. Bell is an incredible actor who lends so much weight and pathos to such an already fascinating character. John Kramer isn’t just a run-of-the-mill vengeful killer. He’s a man on a mission, sick as it may be; a brutal, sanctimonious hypocrite with something to prove. In an odd way, this is Jigsaw at his most justified, to the extent that he can be. Not only are (most of) his victims in this film detestable enough for the audience to root for their demise, but it’s the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen John Kramer. The film’s human drama is centered around John learning to be at peace with his inevitable death from cancer, finding out he may have a second chance, and then having his hopes dashed. It’s also the first time we’ve watched the main plot unfold from his point of view, rather than his victims’. It’s such a cool change in perspective that helps this film stand out and feel less like a retread of past glories. I just can’t say enough good things about Tobin Bell’s performance, and if this is his last time in the role, I’m more than content with that.

Much like the Texas Chainsaw franchise, despite the first film suggesting far more than it shows, the intense gore is a hallmark of the Saw brand. Saw X is probably one of the more gruesome of the series, although not necessarily in quantity. While a lot of my favorite horror movies tend to feature more heightened, outlandish blood and guts, I really appreciate how the better Saw films tend to be more clinical with their gore. It’s visceral and unsettling, and it’s never presented with any gross-out theatrics or ghoulish delight. It’s like watching a medical video, rather than a magic show. This amps up the discomfort, and subsequently, the tension, since the recipients of said violence are under a time crunch. Another major contributor to the tension is the music by Charlie Clouser, who was also with the series from the beginning. This is a career-best score for Clouser, and when that iconic “Hello Zep” theme kicks in… chills.

Saw X is an outstanding addition to one of the most popular horror franchises of the 21st century. Beneath the gore and grime is a Shakespearean tragedy that makes it one of the most emotionally engaging entries in the whole series, and it features career-best work from Bell, Greutert, Stohlberg, Goldfinger, and Clouser. This is most definitely a game worth replaying.

SCORE: 4.5/5

TRIGGER WARNING: rapid flashing lights/images

SPOILERS

So there are two major firsts in Saw X that I really want to address, but both are better experienced without prior knowledge, so I’m including this part at the end. One of them is a sort of “hypothetical” trap/game that we see John Kramer fantasize about before seeing his potential victim right the wrong John saw him commit. While I normally hate fake outs like this, it was an interesting new look at John Kramer’s thought process, as well as a rare chance to see him show mercy (or his version of it).

The other big first is when Dr. Pederson manages to turn the tables on John and put him in one of this own traps. The idea of John Kramer himself having to “play a game” is especially interesting, and I’m kind of surprised it took the series this long to try it. It’s yet another way the film emphasizes John’s mortality, and I think it paid off.

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About the Creator

Will Lasley

I’m an actor and director of stage and screen. But I also dabble in standup, and on this site, horror movie criticism. I’m just a guy who loves horror movies, and I like to share that love with the world.

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