Despite the fact that 2010’s 7th Saw entry was subtitled The Final Chapter, the little horror series that could has continued to soldier on with an additional 3 sequels, proving that positive financial returns will always take priority over creativity.
Now, that’s not to say that The Final Chapter itself wasn’t somewhat creative – its traps were certainly elaborate in their genuine disgusting nature – and both the 8th and 9th films, 2017’s Jigsaw and 2021’s Spiral, managed to enhance the narrative we had come to expect from the series, but, overall, there was a certain scrappy magic to the original film that gradually dimmed with each subsequent sequel.
That being said, Saw X placing its story between the first and second film (so it really should be Saw 1.5 if we’re being chronologically technical) promises a glimmer of hope that Kevin Greutert‘s episode – this being his third as director after Saw VI and The Final Chapter – will adhere more to the earlier film’s temperament of blending a story with its scares over mere graphic gore for the pure sake of it.
And, indeed, after an early-set trapping sequence involving someone breaking their own fingers or risk having their eyeballs sucked out of their sockets – this imagery plastered heavily over the film’s marketing – Saw X settles into a surprisingly sombre mode, honouring its longstanding poster boy – Tobin Bell‘s suffering John Kramer, aka Jigsaw – by humanising him in a manner that sits at odds with our own good conscience. It’s always been one of the series’ major discussion points that as a serial killer figure Kramer hasn’t actually killed anyone himself. His traps (for the most part) have presented his victims with an option of survival, and though placing them in such traps is quite an extreme form of punishment for their crimes, them not being “innocent” means his methods are (in his view) justified.
Kramer and his long bout with cancer has been running through the Saw films from the beginning. You can wax lyrical all you want on the man having enough money to fund clearly expensive mechanical equipment for his traps but not want to put that to any of his treatment, but we wouldn’t have a near-two-decade-running series if there was common sense here, so it’s better to go along with the idea that Kramer has exhausted his options and he’d rather live out his days bettering the world by knocking off a few liars, cheats, and criminals.
That’s certainly the case in Saw X, as Kramer believes he has found a cure through an experimental program overseen by Dr. Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund), a Norwegian surgeon performing non-FDA-approved treatments out of a secret laboratory in Mexico. Kramer can respect her unorthodox methods, and he’s treated in such a kindly manner at the facility itself that it both allows us to warm to him in a fashion we wouldn’t expect, as well as barrack for him when he ultimately has to punish them for faking the entirety of the treatment itself.
Yes, Cecilia and her motley crew are all con-artists, robbing the sick and vulnerable out of their hard-earned savings by preying on their weakness in their final hours of need. Suffice to say, when they all awaken in a wholly un-sterile looking warehouse, dazed, confused, and tied up to an apparatus of some sort, we’re entirely on Kramer’s side.
It’s here where Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg‘s script embraces the violent, sickly nature of the series, and any viewers who have been wondering when Saw X will start to feel like a Saw film – the sequences surrounding John and his trip to Cecilia’s facility take up roughly the film’s first half – can settle in for pure gory carnage. We’re talking slicing off one’s own leg, self-performed brain surgery, and, in the aftermath of quite possibly the film’s most excruciating sequence, witnessing an unorthodox use of one’s own intestine; how this film wasn’t rated R18+ here is beyond me!
As each Saw sequel started to travel further and further away from the relatively humble beginnings of the 2004 original and the well-manoeuvred 2005 sequel with convoluted plot lines and overtly-exaggerated trappings, Saw X feels like more of a return to form. It doesn’t quite evoke the feelings of James Wan’s first film, but it feels slightly more modest in how it presents itself; most of the traps work within the realms of believability, which isn’t always the case in this series.
If you’ve never seen a Saw film then Saw X is not the place to start, and the filmmakers shouldn’t even expect to convert naysayers here. But for those that have stuck with the series through all its ups and downs, Saw X is a bloody reminder that before the tank is utilised to test your will to live, there’s a healthy amount of gas inside.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Saw X is now screening in Australian theatres.