Saw X review | Jigsaw returns in glorious form

Saw X review
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Tobin Bell reprises his iconic role as John Kramer aka Jigsaw in the 10th instalment of the iconic horror franchise. Read our Saw X review.

It’s a well-known fact in Hollywood that horror films and franchises are worth investing in. They’re often cheap to make and easily turn a profit at the box office. How else would you explain Halloween still being shopped around? 

The Saw-franchise might be one of the most successful franchises in horror history, thanks to strong word of mouth about the gnarly, downright gross traps that the Jigsaw killer (more on him in a bit) puts his hapless victims in. Saw and its nine subsequent sequels aren’t just films, they’re challenges. Are you brave enough to sit through and watch traps such as the Death Mask? Can you stomach The Rack? 

After Spiral: From the Book of Saw tried and largely failed to rebrand the franchise, Saw X is here to return the franchise to its former glory, at least in theory. 

saw x john kramer

Credit: Lionsgate

It is my great pleasure to announce that Saw X is very decent indeed. It refocuses the franchise back to John Kramer, who perished all the way back in Saw III and mostly operated from beyond the grave with the help of his apprentices for another four films before Jigsaw and Spiral all but abandoned the character. 

Saw X takes place in between Saw and Saw II and sees the terminally ill John travel to Mexico for some highly experimental medical treatment. Except John quickly finds out that he has been conned out of his money and he’s still dying and is hellbent on revenge. 

The franchise may have earned itself the label of “torture porn”, but Saw X invests in simpler traps and a tight focus on John as a character. It’s a refreshing approach that works well for the most part, even if Saw X can still feel frustratingly thin and shallow. 

READ MORE: Saw X and the unsubtle art of the splatter movie barf bag

Tobin Bell, playing the character for the umpteenth time, is nothing short of remarkable. Jigsaw’s games have usually unfolded without John’s direct involvement or his presence, but in Saw X, we see John not only converse with his victims, but tend to them if they survive their individual traps. Bell taps into the character’s fragile mental state with nuance and delivers the film’s best performance. 

Also back is Shawnee Smith as Amanda. John and Amanda’s relationship still feels superficial, but there are some nice touches, especially as Amanda is forced to face her own past while observing another victim of addiction fight in a deadly trap. Synnøve Macody Lund plays the film’s primary antagonist, Dr. Cecilia Pederson, but the character quickly slips into moustache-twirling-hammy-villain territory and this time, that’s not a compliment.

Now then, this is the bit you’ve all been waiting for. How are the traps? Are they as gnarly as the Pig Vat or the Needle Pit? As iconic as the Reverse Bear Trap? 

saw x amanda

Credit: Lionsgate

The traps are… fine. They’re all suitably gory and brutal, but in all honesty, none of them have that iconic feel of the series’ best traps. And let’s be honest, the entire reason we pay good money to watch a Saw film is to see the traps play out. While Saw X doesn’t exactly disappoint – the brain surgery trap feels particularly old school Saw – there’s a nagging feeling that it could have gone further. 

Kevin Greutert, a long-time franchise veteran, steers Saw X with a steady hand. This might very well be the funniest of all the Saw films. It has a cheeky, playful tone and plenty of moments that warrant a laugh, and not in a mean kind of way. An early scene sees John observe a cleaner in a hospital who contemplates on stealing an unconscious patient’s valuables, making John imagine him in a grisly trap. The cleaner ultimately decides against theft and John simply comments, “Good choice” to him, prompting a big laugh from the London audience.

There are a few issues with the film. For one, it does not need to be nearly two hours long. Most of the weight is carried in the film’s first act that goes on a bit too long, but once the traps keep rolling out, things improve. 

Secondly, there is a strange race/power imbalance that isn’t acknowledged. Director Kevin Greutert recently said during a Q&A at Fantastic Fest that Saw X takes place in Mexico because ⅓ of the franchise’s audience is Latino. Yet, in the film, it’s mostly Latinos who meet their grisly ends in Jigsaw’s traps, designed by an old white guy. If at least acknowledged, it could have added another fascinating layer to Saw X

Like Saw VI, Greutert previous Saw film, Saw X takes a stab at the pharmaceutical industry, but is far less convincing in its critique than Saw VI. There’s some great stuff here – the whole con plot works surprisingly well – but Saw has never been a franchise that’s led by thoughtful themes. It’s all about spectacle and Saw X delivers it in moderate, but still exhilarating doses.

Is Saw X perfect? Hell no, but it does everything well and it’s a hugely enjoyable experience. It probably won’t convert you into a hardcore Saw fan, but for existing fans, it offers a fresh new angle and focus while also delivering on the series’ trademark gore and torment. At least, Saw X is proudly a Saw film, through and through. 

Saw X is in cinemas 29 September. 

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