Saw X Review

By: Andrew Warren  |  October 24, 2023

By Andrew Warren, Staff Writer 

(Spoiler warning for Saw movies 1 and 2)

Cut your leg off with a hacksaw or you’ll starve to death in an underground bathroom. Cut out your eye to reach a key or your head will be crushed by a spiky metal mask.  Burn your dead son’s remaining belongings or an innocent man will drown in a vat of pig carcasses. Perform brain surgery on yourself or your face will be melted off.

The Saw franchise began in 2004, and its tenth installment, SAW X, is currently in theaters. The series centers on the notorious Jigsaw Killer, who chooses to place the victims in traps as opposed to murdering them outright. Each trap comes with a chance to survive, but it’s not easy. 

Each film follows the same formula. A group of people wake up in an unfamiliar room, only to realize they’ve been abducted by Jigsaw as punishment for some character flaw. They are subject to a series of games, losing blood, limbs, and lives in the process. Meanwhile there’s some detective on the verge of solving the entire puzzle. The stories come together in a thrilling climax. Then, at the end, there’s a big shocking twist that recontextualizes everything.

How can a franchise stay fresh and relevant after 19 years? Well, one approach is to reboot the franchise with a new Jigsaw killer and a sleek, modern look, as they did in 2017’s Jigsaw. It wasn’t that good. Another option is to undergo a second reboot, focusing on themes like police brutality, and let Chris Rock give a dramatic performance, as they did with 2021’s Spiral. Unfortunately, that movie also didn’t perform well. Alternatively, the franchise can focus on Jigsaw as the main character.

The story begins with Jigsaw undergoing fruitless medical treatment for his cancer. He travels to Mexico for an experimental procedure, only to learn the entire operation is a fraudulent scheme designed to scam him of his money. Fueled  by a newfound purpose, the infamous serial killer uses deranged and ingenious traps to turn the tables on the con artists.

Tobin Bell’s performance as Jigsaw, also known as John Kramer, is the depraved heart and soul of the Saw movies. There is a deep sadness in Kramer, as well as egregious self-righteousness and a savior complex, that make him one of the most compelling franchise horror villains in cinematic history. Previously, he’s only had a supporting role, with screen time ranging from 4 minutes to 50 minutes. Saw X, he takes on the role of the protagonist, to great success. He’s sympathetic, driven, and most importantly, he’s interesting, which is not something you can say about every Saw protagonist.

Jigsaw isn’t alone on his quest for revenge. He’s joined by Amanda Young, his loyal apprentice portrayed by Shawnee Smith. I’ve always found Smith’s acting much more impactful when she plays highly emotional and over-the-top characters. Unfortunately, this feature calls for her to be tough and stoic and it’s not entirely convincing, especially when she shares the screen with Tobin Bell.

The last actor to mention is Synnøve Macody Lund, who plays Dr. Celia, the ringleader behind the scam. In her role as Celia, Lund’s job is to create a character so vile, so evil, that the audience has no choice but to root for Jigsaw, and she delivers. Her capacity for cruelty knows no bounds. Lund does an excellent job of providing Celia with layers of depravity, continuously revealing new facets of the character as the film progresses.

The motion picture is directed by Kevin Greutert, who has worked on the franchise many times in the past, both as an editor and director. The initial seven Saw films have a very distinctive look to them, with constant camera movement and noticeable editing that imparts a nervous and jumpy quality. Jigsaw and Spiral moved away from that experience, but Saw X makes a return to form. It inspires the original Saw movie experience.

The traps are pretty good. They aren’t the most creative or “Rube Goldbergy” as seen in recent installments, but are still very gory and fun to watch. There’s a real variety of sadism in this movie including amputations, broken bones, and radiation poisoning. Chances are there’s at least one torture scene in this movie that will satisfy your particular kind of bloodlust.

Saw X is the first in the franchise to forgo a law enforcement subplot, and the absence is felt. Generally, in between the traps, the movie would cut to a detective tracking down Jigsaw. In this film, the action never leaves the warehouse, and that extra time isn’t well spent. John and Amanda debate the effectiveness of their methods, but nothing substantial arises from these conversations. Their characters remain unchanged as a result of this experience. Had the movie been about Amanda’s first time as John’s assistant, or Amanda’s disillusionment in John’s beliefs, perhaps these scenes would have carried more weight. As it is now, it feels like just another day for these two serial killers, diminishing the movie’s impact.

Lastly, the third act is fairly deflating. John Kramer has taken risks in the past, but in this film, his actions seem driven by the writers’ desire to captivate the audience with unexpected twists, rather than staying true to a coherent and logical narrative. 

Saw X is a horror reboot done mostly right. It honors what came before in terms of character, story, and filmmaking. It’s clearly created by people who love and understand this franchise. Even though it has flaws, the flaws come from trying to be true to the series rather than subvert it. Bring on Saw XI!

For Saw fans 7/10

Non-Saw fans 5/10