Review | Saw X | 2023

It isn't often that a horror franchise manages to rally in its 10th entry to deliver one of the strongest films in the series, but after years of laying mostly dormant, with a few halfhearted attempts to restart the series, Saw X has emerged as the most well reviewed film in the franchise's 19 year history.

Once a yearly Halloween staple for seven years running, the Saw series came to an end in 2010 with the abysmal Saw 3D. Since then, there has been a hybrid prequel/sequel, JIGSAW (2017), and most recently a spinoff of sorts, Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021). Saw X not only returns the series to its roots, it refines them. Since Jigsaw, the series' main antagonist, died in Saw III, the series has often struggled to find away around his absence, often retconning timelines in the films' signature twist endings and framing each new set of traps as part of some larger game that he helped set in motion before his death.

Saw X turns back the clock, taking place prior to the events of Saw II, as Jigsaw, aka John Kramer (Tobin Bell), discovers his brain cancer diagnosis and flies down to Mexico to seek an experimental treatment. The treatment, however, turns out to be a scam, leading John and his apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith) to kidnap the scammers and their accomplices and throw them into a twisted game of life and death.

While Jigsaw's presence has always hung heavy over the series, none of them have ever focused so closely on the character of John Kramer as this. Saw X explores his character and his motivations, along with his twisted sense of morality, in ways the series has never before attempted, turning Jigsaw into a kind of avenging angel preying on those who prey upon the weak. It also explores the contradiction in his sadistic tactics - who's the real monster here? Jigsaw, or those who exploit the hope of the dying?

Here Tobin Bell cements Jigsaw's legacy as one of the all time great horror villains. Now 81 years old, his performance in Saw X feels disarmingly autumnal, a strangely loving sendoff for a truly great character who has never really been given the respect he deserves given the critical distaste for the grisly, at times pornographic, violence for which the series is infamous. And there is certainly plenty of violence in Saw X. Longtime fans of the series will find plenty of cringe-inducing gore and ingenious traps to keep them entertained. But director Kevin Greutert (who also helmed Saw VI and Saw 3D) brings something more grounded to the proceedings than we've previously seen. Even the final twist doesn't attempt to rewrite the film as previous entries have done, instead bringing new clarity to the game we thought we were watching. It may not have the same kind of lurid, feverish intensity of James Wan's original Saw, but it has something none of the other Saw films can boast - a soul. Saw X is a twisted morality play, a heartfelt showcase for Tobin Bell, and a surprising return to form for a series that had seemingly run out of steam decades ago. Welcome back, Jigsaw. We didn't know how much we'd missed you.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

SAW X | Directed by Kevin Greutert | Stars Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund, Renata Vaca, Paulette Hernández | Rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, language and some drug use | Now playing in theaters everywhere.


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