By Jesse Burchill
“Saw X” is a horror film directed by Kevin Greutert and released on Sept. 29. The 10th entry in the “Saw” horror franchise, “Saw X” takes place in between “Saw,” the first entry from 2004, and “Saw II” from 2005.
This film focuses on John Kramer, the infamous “Jigsaw Killer,” as he enters his first role as protagonist. The plot kicks off as Kramer, dying from terminal cancer, desperately seeks out an experimental treatment at a medical center in Mexico.
However, Kramer learns that the center is a total sham and does not actually cure its patients, himself included - he decides to take revenge on the staff by doing what he does best.
And what he does best is kidnap and place his victims in life-or-limb traps that will leave them dead or mutilated.
The film has a tone that’s very reminiscent of the first “Saw” film, focusing more on the psychological side of the horror. The brutality of the traps does not overshadow the time the film spends with its characters and its analysis of their morality.
This allows “Saw X” to stand out on its own narrative merits, rather than follow the sequels’ increased focus on gore, and develop a rather unique identity among the franchise.
The film is further bolstered by a slew of stellar performances. Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith return to the franchise as John Kramer and Amanda Young respectively, doing so in glorious fashion.
Bell was always more stoic in his role as Kramer, but nonetheless manages to come across as a compelling, somehow sympathetic individual who was dealt a horrible lot in life.
Specifically, the scene where Kramer learns the truth about the clinic manages to be heart-wrenching, given Bell’s subtle, silent performance and the hope Kramer had in finally beating his cancer and living out his days without donning the role of Jigsaw again.
Tobin Bell is 81, and has been in every “Saw” film except “Spiral,” but is far from outlasting his welcome and succeeds in being as intimidating as ever as Jigsaw.
Shawnee Smith’s turn as Amanda is far more eerie - Amanda is revealed in the second film to be Kramer’s apprentice, having become loyal to his endgame and seeing him as a father figure. Smith continues this depiction throughout “X,” giving Amanda a rather chilling calmness and a rather callous attitude toward most of the victims.
The cast is rounded out by the victims of John’s traps. Actors Joshua Okamoto, Octavio Hinojosa, and Paulette Hernández pull off a trio of excellent performances - their confusion and fear are palpable, and it feels as if they are actually experiencing the same intense pain and horror as their characters.
Of specific note is Renata Vaca - she plays Gabriela, the youngest and most “innocent” character involved in the fraudulent clinic. Vaca’s absolutely stellar and heartbreaking performance makes her stand out far above the rest in her first English-language film.
The film also has one of the best villains in the entire “Saw” franchise. While John Kramer himself is by no means an angel, he genuinely believes that his traps make people appreciate the gift that is their lives, and always gives them a way out.
Meanwhile, Synnøve Macody Lund portrays Cecilia Pederson, the leader of the fake clinic. First seen as the mastermind of the plan to defraud countless cancer patients, Cecilia shows zero remorse for her actions at any point in the film.
She proves to be much viler than Kramer and the other villains of the franchise ever were, in no small part thanks to Lund’s performance.
Even with these merits, “Saw X” did not quite stick the landing. I had seen the first Saw film directly before this one, and while the inspiration is clear, the film’s implementation is far blunter, going for a more direct route that unintentionally undermines its psychological side and leaves something to be desired in its execution.
In the end, this film succeeds in providing the franchise’s expected gore, utilizing a surprisingly philosophical take on what’s expected from it, and making the audience sympathize with John Kramer.
While the presentation lacks the finesse of the original film, “Saw X” proves to be a very worthy sequel and horror film in its own right.
One of the best “Saw” films since the first