After months of anticipation and one of the most aggressive hype campaigns of the franchise, Saw X is finally here, but is it any good? Written by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, and directed by long running franchise editor Kevin Greutert, the latest entry is an incredible treat for fans and one of the finest Saw films since the first.
When Saw X was announced, franchise fans, including yours truly, went nuts. Chances of more Saw seemed slim after the disappointment of Jigsaw and Spiral.
For 7 years straight, between 2004 and 2010, you could bank on a new Saw film bring murder and mayhem to a cinema near you around Halloween. The franchise was an institution synonymous with the spooky season, a guaranteed annual night out for horror hounds the world over, but all good things must come to an end and with The Final Chapter in 2010, it looked like the story was over. Then, out of the blue, 2017 gave us Jigsaw, a kind of soft reboot/additional chapter. Then Spiral: From the Book of Saw turned up in 2021. Both spin-offs received lukewarm response. The tank was running on empty and the momentum all but dried up.
Which is why the tenth instalment’s timeline positioning between Saw and Saw 2 came as such an exciting prospect. Killing John Kramer in Saw 3 was a brave and dramatic decision, but a decision the franchise has been contorting itself around ever since. To maintain Kramer’s charismatic presence, we’ve been drip -ed flashbacks, watched the narrative bend over backwords to fill in blanks and give him presence from beyond the grave. But finally, Saw X delivers something fans have wanted since square one: a Saw film which puts Jigsaw front-and-centre. And boy does it deliver.
Set weeks after the first Saw, Saw X follows Jigsaw himself (Tobin Bell) as he embarks on a trip to Mexico for an experimental cancer procedure offered by Dr. Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund). However, when the procedure turns out to be a swindle, Jigsaw decides to put the team of con artists to the test.
Stripping the franchise back to basics is a smart move. No more narrative contortion or desperate attempts to contain the sprawling twists and turns. After a good deal of set up, it’s a one-set affair like the first Saw. Smaller scale, larger rewards. It allows the story and its characters room to breathe, for atmosphere to build, and for the film to have a chance at narrative cohesion. It’s not exactly real time, but there’s a directness to the flow that feels alien for a franchise that has become so used to time jumps, sprawling city-wide antics, and concurrently running plots.
The traps won’t disappoint either. It’s been a while since a Saw film really pulled off some cringe inducing, gut-wrenching gore and the tenth entry manages it a few times. These films were never for the squeamish but it’s nice to know Jigsaw hasn’t lost his touch. Even with all the bone crunching, bloodletting, brain-scrambling nastiness, Saw X’s biggest shocks perhaps comes from its third act twists. Fans shouldn’t hold their breath for fan service or cameos, the twists I’m talking about are literally just decent twists in the films story.
The heart and soul of the film is Tobin Bell’s performance though. Bell has always been the keystone in these films’ enduring appeal and Saw X gives him more screen time than any other, showcasing the charisma and talent that turned Jigsaw into a contemporary horror icon, and the Saw series a multimillion-dollar global hit. Giving Bell decent dialogue and some bold new scenarios we’ve never seen him tackle feels like a gift. Bringing back Shawnee Smith’s Amanda to help flesh out the more emotional side to this entry is also a superb idea since her and Bell’s relationship is such an important part of the first few films. It feels mad to say, but Saw X might be the first entry to bring some surprisingly tear-jerking moments.
For long -time fans, Saw X is a gift, and the tightest, sharpest entry since the first back in 2004. That kind of quality jump, after all these years, is nothing short of a miracle and the future of the franchise is worth considering. Could they do another? Of course, they could. Even at 80 Bell is still a powerhouse performer and there’s still plenty of fun to be had watching him dispense nasty morality lessons. But this film also ends with such poise and satisfaction, its final images so perfectly final, that it serves as a fitting full stop to the most popular modern horror franchise, and a fond farewell to its lead antagonist.
Dir. Kevin Greutert
Stars. Tobin Bell, Shawneee Smith, Synnove Macody Lund, Steven Brand, Renata Vaca, Joshua Okamoto, Octavio Hinojosa