It’s been nearly 20 years since we were first introduced to John Kramer through the 2004 film Saw. What was at first an experimental low-budget movie ended up becoming one of the most persistent horror franchises in recent decades.
Saw 3D (Saw VII) was meant to be the last film in the franchise, but due to its relative success we got the spin-offs Jigsaw (Saw VIII) and Spiral (Saw IX). Now we’re back to mainline saw titles with Saw X.
However Jigsaw killer John Kramer (played by Tobin Bell) has been dead since the end of Saw III. So can Saw X manage to excite when we already know how these characters’ stories end?
Saw X (2023)
Production Company: Twisted Pictures
Director: Kevin Greutert
Release Date: September 29, 2023
Horror franchises are defined by their fans, they’re the ones that keep coming back after all. Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, all long-running franchises that over time tried to find what made their audience tick, and we’ve been at that point with Saw for a while now.
Saw X takes place sometime between Saw and Saw II, and it makes a big change from the rest of the series. While traditionally, the individuals in the traps are the narrative focus of the movies (with a crime thriller subplot in later films), this time we get to see more of Kramer.
Jigsaw has always been a more empathetic killer compared to most slashers, he’s a stubborn vigilante with a moral code and a strong stomach for body horror and torture. Saw X exploits this fact and makes him more relatable and perhaps even lionizes him.
Maybe this is a self-report that I’m messed up, but in Saw X I was actually rooting for Jigsaw. Not in an edgy, sympathize with a serial killer way but the film actually props him up as a protagonist.
More effort is placed on the build up compared to earlier films in the series and it’s better for it. In former films we’re jerked around between the current game, flashbacks of the victims, and crime drama with Jigsaw apostle Hoffman. This time we get some early flashbacks but it’s overall one continuous story.
The movie ironically falls flat on some of the traps as opposed to the more human element. The effects are on point and the traps are painful to watch, as a good trap should be but are drastically different in their scope. (spoiler: One victim has to suck up her own bone marrow with a vacuum while another just has to just break a hand and foot.)
(More spoilers) Another frustrating part is how two of the traps in a row are a victim of failed design, for someone as meticulous as John Kramer, for two victims to technically succeed but be run out on the timer as a matter of the deactivation mechanism taking time.
After giving it some thought, if I were caught in a Saw trap I’d just figure out what’s the most painless way to lose since you can win and still die anyways.
It can be somewhat forgiven though, given the circumstances Kramer creates these traps in. In fact, who built what traps and under what circumstances is a common point of discussion among the fandom; and I’d be surprised if writers Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg didn’t know this.
So, we return to my points about fandom. Saw X is a film for fans, plain and simple. We see Shawnee Smith as Amanda Young show up, we see Costas Mandylor as Detective Mark Hoffman, and to an uninformed viewer these are meaningless characters. Who else but a fan of Saw would cheer when Amanda takes off her pig mask, or when Kramer asks for the help of a “Detective” over the phone?
But it’s not great to let fanservice do the heavy lifting. It’s been 13 years since we saw the seeming finale to Jigsaw’s story in Saw 3D. I love the Saw franchise and the fanservice resonated with me, but I feel that your casual viewer will be left scratching their head at the appearance of Amanda and Hoffman.
Actors Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith are fantastic to watch on screen. Most of the time we saw them together in earlier entries was when Bell as Jigsaw was wheezing on a hospital bed, so it’s nice to see the two interact as a murderous duo. Norwegian actress Synnøve Macody Lund also stands out for her performance and can flip between caring and sadistic in an instant.
Ultimately, Saw X and its emphasis on John Kramer elevates the series beyond shocking thrills and mysteries. It enhances the human element to one of horror’s most sympathetic killers. While a few events played out in a way I felt were disappointing, the biggest complaint is just the lack of exposition for new viewers to the franchise.
Saw X was reviewed after a theatrical viewing. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Saw X is in theaters now.