Director: Kevin Greutert
Writers: Josh Stolberg, Peter Goldfinger
Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund, Renata Vaca, Octavio Hinojosa
Producers: Mark Burg, Oren Koules
Music: Charlie Clouser
Cinematographer: Nick Matthews
Editor: Kevin Greutert
Running time: 118mins
What’s the story: When cancer victim John Kramer (Bell), aka serial killer Jigsaw, journeys to Mexico for a costly, too-good-to-be-true lifesaving operation, he discovers it was too good to be true. He vows to teach the scammers a morality lesson via his trademark lethal traps.
What’s the verdict: The original Saw series ran a film a year from 2004 to 2010, growing so convoluted it could have become the first movie franchise to open with, “Previously on…” recaps. Boldly, it never did. Even more boldly, neither does Saw X, a film arriving 13 years after the last instalment of that original run, plus a failed reboot (2017’s Jigsaw) and a failed spin-off (2021’s Spiral: From the Book of Saw).
This latest entry doesn’t really bother to tell the audience when exactly it is set (between parts 1 and 2 for those interested, making this Saw 1.5 rather than 10). Does this matter? Not to me it didn’t, and the original Saw aside, I’ve seen each film just the once.
Sure, I scraped my brains (much like a character does in this film) to recall who Shawnee Smith’s Amanda was (and came up short, thinking she was Julie Benz’s Brit from Saw V). Absolutely, I missed many of the in-jokes and references that the Saw-heads around me lapped up at the event screening I attended. But, writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger, previous scribblers on Jigsaw and Spiral, keep the A-story so straightforward, you’ll allow them their B-story geekouts.
Whether or not the film is good will depend on your fondness for the franchise, for Tobin Bell’s gravelly voiced killer, and for watching characters dismember themselves or die as part of Jigsaw’s “tough love” therapy. Or for Billy, that bike riding puppet. The practical FX work impresses, and the film earns its “18” certificate, even if the traps aren’t as inventive as they were back in the noughties. Plotwise, this echoes the superior Saw VI, although the wrongdoers here are scammers rather than slippery health insurance execs.
Director Kevin Greutert previously helmed Saw VI and Saw 3D (aka part 7) and is the series’ regular editor (including on this movie). He deftly deploys his editor’s scalpel, or mouse button, on Saw X to keep it pacy for its 118min runtime. Provided you can stomach the claret and hamburger sloshing around onscreen.
Returning as John, aka Jigsaw, Tobin Bell deploys to great effect that gaunt, kind face that can turn subzero on a dime. The opening half hour allows him to flex his thesping muscles as a man facing his own demise, and is the best sustained section of a Saw film since the original outing.
Headhunter’s Synnøve Macody Lund makes for a nicely sly baddie as bogus doc Cecila Pederson, while Renata Vaca and Octavio Hinojosa stand out amongst Pederson’s underlings, trapped with her in the booby-trapped house of horrors.
But there’s something about Saw X that left me queasy, and it wasn’t the outrageous gore. Bar Lund’s character and another we’ll not spoil here, Jigsaw’s victims are Mexican and two are outcasts (a drug addict and sex worker, both women). Watching them, particularly the women, being tortured by a wealthy white man unequivocally positioned as the hero, leaves the wrong kind of bad taste in the mouth. How about next time Jigsaw finds ways for billionaires to rip themselves apart?
This aside, if you like your horror heavy on the Grand Guignol you’ll leave smiling. Everyone else may stumble out with Saw eyes…