By the tenth entry in a horror franchise, the bar for quality and innovation has been significantly lowered, but it turns out to be a lucky number for Saw X. Absolutely better than it has any right to be, and, you know, an actual movie with a plot instead of a mess of convoluted mythology, Saw X comes up with the winning ingredients to hopefully breathe some more life into a stale concept. If you’re a fan of the series, Saw X represents a return to form and a strengthening of what the franchise has been building up. If you barely remember any of these beyond the second or third film, you’ll probably think this is pretty good by comparison. If you never liked these graphically gory, brutish, worst case scenario escape room movies, you’ll still hate it, but probably less than others.
Everyone’s “favourite” psychopathic, terminal cancer patient John Kramer (once again played by Tobin Bell), is inching closer to the end of his life. One day while out for coffee, Kramer runs into a fellow patient from a cancer support group who looks like he has been all but cured. The man tells John about a doctor (Synnøve Macody Lund) promising revolutionary treatment via a combination of cutting edge surgery and new medication. Unfortunately, the doctor’s methods aren’t approved of in many countries, and the soonest John can get an appointment would facilitate him going to Mexico. Eager to move on with his life in peace, John ponies up a bunch of cash and goes forward with the treatment. Unfortunately for John, the whole thing turns out to be a scam preying on the sick and vulnerable. Looks like it’s time for Jigsaw – and some of his old friends – to come out of retirement to play some more games.
Jumping ahead slightly, the second hour of Saw X is exactly what most viewers would expect from one of these movies. A bunch of people who need to be taught a lesson are trapped in a deadly escape room of sorts. Lots of gory, brutal, painful mayhem and ear shattering screaming ensues. There are ticking clocks, tipping scales, triggers being unknowingly tripped, and plenty of cassette tapes with ominous messages, despite the fact that John is mere feet away from his victims this time out. In those respects, Saw X delivers on expectation, albeit a bit more gruesome this time out, probably because John Kramer is the hero this time and his marks – especially Lund’s gleefully evil doctor – are truly awful people. The overall ethic, logic, and convoluted lore of the franchise are all but incoherent at this point, but luckily Saw X works best if you’ve forgotten pretty much anything that happened after roughly the third or fourth movie. (Don’t worry, super Saw fans. There are plenty of easter eggs if you know these films inside and out, too.)
But to their credit returning director Kevin Greutert (who helmed the sixth and seventh instalments, and has been working as an editor on the franchise since the beginning) and screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger (redeeming themselves for the dreadful reboot attempts Jigsaw and Spiral) want to take a bigger swing with Saw X. Delivering the longest film in the franchise by a good twenty extra minutes, Saw X spends a lot of time off the top building up sympathy for John, and trying to show someone keen on earning some redemption of their own. Any viewer knowing what they bought a ticket for will be able to guess that things aren’t going to work out for John almost immediately, but the rub lies in making the viewer question how they would react if the person being conned was a loved one in the same position. It’s not deep, but it’s more thoughtful than this franchise has been since the original, which wasn’t even that thoughtful to begin with. It turns out the solution to prolonging the franchise is to simply rip off The Equalizer movies, and more importantly, to give Bell a chance to deliver a full bodied, robust, and unique performance as a character often pushed into the background of their own movies.
There is a moment towards the end that inches pretty close to bad taste territory not so much for the gore being employed but for how the film is choosing to go about a certain plot wrinkle. But outside of that, I had a strangely good time watching Saw X. It’s not high art, and it’s still pretty much a geek show, but at least there’s some meat on these bones. There’s probably no way to top this, but at least the people behind the franchise found another nifty trick up their bloody sleeves.
Saw X opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, September 29, 2023.
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