'Saw X' review: Get ready to squirm in arguably the franchise's best entry
Courtesy of Lionsgate
If you have a weak stomach, I’d recommend steering clear of “Saw X,” the umpteenth entry in the sprawling horror saga that began with the iconic words “I wanna play a game.” It results in the best entry since 2004’s inaugural outing (though I have a soft spot for “Saw II”), but considering the series made a name for itself by crafting an expansive, borderline hilarious puzzle of interconnected stories that, deep down, wanted to present itself as a morality play about the perils of right and wrong, “Saw X” didn’t have a high bar to clear. Still, I haven’t squirmed this bad in a movie theater in I don’t know how long. Director Kevin Greutert, and writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger go back to the basics, delivering ingenious death traps while also giving audiences an engaging narrative that cuts the fluff and keeps things effortless.
On the continuity timeline, “Saw X” is a direct sequel to “Saw,” which means you don’t need to remember the encyclopedia of knowledge of the previous 9 films in order to enjoy this one. It finds Tobin Bell returning as John Kramer, better known as Jigsaw, the sinister mastermind who constructs death traps where the chosen, usually people with shady or criminal backgrounds, must decide what they’re willing to sacrifice in order to live. In some cases, it’s literally cutting through ligaments or nerves with nothing by barbed wire or ripping out an eyeball while a timer counts down the seconds until complete obliteration: “Live or die, make your choice.”
Unlike the previous installments, where you needed on-screen graphics to keep up with how silly the timelines were, “Saw X” can be summed up pretty easily. If you remember from before, Kramer was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer: “I’ve still got a lot of work to do” he says. According to this entry, he tried to receive an experimental treatment in Mexico after being referred by a fellow stage four cancer survivor in the hopes of living to fight another day. Except, it turns out to be a massive scam and Dr. Cecilia Pedersen (Synnøve Macody Lundy), who runs the entire operation, dupes people like Kramer into forking over thousands of dollars for a sense of false hope.
Before you know it, Kramer has assembled the medical team in a warehouse, chained to various contraptions where they’ll be given a second chance at life and atone for their sins. I don’t want to explain the mechanics of these devices too much (let’s just say my favorite involves an on-the-spot lobotomy) but they are grueling, gnarly, and the prop departments, in addition to the sound designers (there’s plenty of bone crunching), deserve high praise. Even the infamous Billy the puppet and “Saw” fan favorite, and Kramer’s right hand, Amanda (Shawnee Smith) are back for another round of gruesome terror.
It’s all so easily stitched together and simple in its presentation, it makes for a relatively breezy watch that hints at more installments down the road. It’s also got the intensity series fans have craved since the last spinoffs, “Spiral,” and “Jigsaw,” failed to ignite much enthusiasm. Bell gives a solid performance not far removed from the pathos of what Robert Englund cultivated with Freddy Kruger, but in a much somber and more serious way. In essence, “Saw X” is a character study about the depths one man is willing to go in order to find his soul and the meaning of life. That it happens to feature a few severed limbs and a gorey disembowelment is just a bonus.
SAW X is now playing in theaters.