Saw X review: A glorious, gory return to form
Saw X is a triumphant return to form. Director Kevin Greutert scraps the convoluted plots and traps, taking us back in time to focus on the one and only John Kramer. It’s beautiful, it’s brutal, and it’s one of the strongest movies in the franchise. Here is our review.
When Jame Wan’s Saw bludgeoned its way onto the silver screen in 2004, it defied expectations, gripping audiences with its bone-chilling traps, twisty conclusion, and gritty psychological thrills. But as the years went by, the raw and visceral terror of the earlier movies became diluted by an increasingly convoluted plot. The latter entries, Spiral and Jigsaw, felt entangled in their own ambitions, aiming to either reinvigorate the franchise with broader societal issues or bank heavily on nostalgia without adding depth.
That’s not to say these films are without their strong points, but arguably the strongest of all is the fact that they gave the creators the opportunity to play around with the Saw formula and figure out what audiences truly want. And this brings us to Saw X, a bloody, beautiful, and brilliant return to form, echoing the gory and gritty ingenuity of the early days while weaving together an unexpectedly emotional narrative and a fresh, refined touch.
It truly feels like director Kevin Greutert, who helmed Saw 3D Saw VI, and writers Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg listened to what the fans want. A perfect blend of homage and innovation, while putting the one and only John Kramer front and center (without having to deal with flashbacks.) Jigsaw’s back and he’s better than ever – let the games begin. Don’t worry – this review is spoiler-free.
John Kramer like you’ve never seen him before
Unlike its predecessors, Saw X switches the usual structure by kicking off with Kramer, and since the movie is set just after the events of the first Saw, he’s not in a very good place. Given Kramer’s death in Saw 3, the choice to wind back the clock serves as a masterstroke, providing a fresh canvas to delve deeper into the origins of the enigmatic antihero without relying on flashbacks.
In this installment, Kramer emerges more layered than ever before. We see the desperation of a man grappling with the reality of his terminal illness, but this isn’t just any man; this is John motherf*cking Kramer. It feels like the backstory has paid off this time, making his descent into the Jigsaw persona all the more palpable.
In a bid to cure his cancer, Kramer is convinced into paying big bucks to embark on a risky and experimental treatment, only to discover the whole thing is a scam to defraud the most vulnerable. And we all know how he feels about injustice. The procedure takes place in Mexico, its visually stimulating backdrop serving as an effective juxtaposition with the gritty setting of Jigsaw’s games.
This renewed focus on Kramer and his story enables a fertile ground for deeper character exploration, and Tobin Bell’s portrayal is nothing short of masterful. There’s an added layer of humanity, bolstered by the welcome return of Saw bulwark Amanda Young, played to perfection by Shawnee Smith, whose on-screen chemistry with Bell is a delight to watch.
But let’s not get it twisted: horror fans watch Saw movies for bloody escapism, and Saw X delivers the goods when it comes to carnage. While catering to the established fanbase of the franchise, one doesn’t need to be a die-hard Jigsaw disciple to appreciate the brutality and simplicity of this installment. It’s not so much about eliciting screams as it is about presenting visceral, gory visuals reminiscent of the splatter film sub-genre. Expect intestines, broken bones, and a whole warehouse full of blood.
Producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules deliver on their promise of simple yet brutal traps, ones that hark back to the earlier films while offering an innovative spin on the franchise’s trademark move. The same can be said for the aesthetics, helmed by cinematographer Nick Matthews. The grimy yet bold palettes are coupled with a notable elegance and slickness that is new to this timeline. Meanwhile, Nine Inch Nails’ Charlie Clouser makes good on his promise of reaching “new extremes” with his score, building suspense and evoking emotion when it’s called for.
Redefining a classic horror formula
Alongside Bell and Smith’s return, the supporting cast do an excellent job at portraying their respective characters. Newcomer Renata Vaca delivers a wide range of emotions with ease, and Synnøve Macody Lund is impeccable as antagonist Dr. Cecilia Pederson. Though her performance occasionally veers into campy territory, it fits into the overall tone of the film.
While Saw X gives fan service through well-placed references and familiar themes that long-time aficionados will undoubtedly recognize and appreciate – yes, Billy the Puppet makes an appearance – it’s essential to note that it doesn’t solely rely on nostalgia or past successes to secure its position. Instead, it carves out its own narrative space within the overarching Saw mythos.
Despite dealing with some of the heaviest themes going in the cinematic world – torture, pain, illness, and death – Saw X succeeds in balancing these with lightness. There are some genuine laugh out loud moments, as well as scenes that will no doubt leave audiences cheering in their seats.
The film’s pacing deserves a mention too. Though it’s the longest movie in the franchise, Saw X doesn’t waste any time, and when the crescendo hits, it does so with full force. The events build up to a truly gratifying ending, not to mention a gob-smacking post-credits scene fans won’t want to miss.
While there’s plenty to praise, it’s worth noting that viewers who aren’t devotees of Saw’s unique brand of brutality – torture porn, as it’s so often described – won’t have a fun time. But if you’re into grimy gore and you want a Saw film that both honors and enhances the legacy of the series, this is a game that’s well worth playing.
Saw X review score: 4/5
Saw X has reinvigorated the franchise. By brilliantly intertwining character depth with sheer, unadulterated carnage, it offers a riveting experience that harks back to what made the original Saw a genre-defining classic, all the while adding a piece to the Jigsaw puzzle we’ve never seen before.
Saw X drops in theaters on September 29. You can find more of our Saw coverage below:
- Saw X: Everything you need to know
- How many Saw movies are there?
- Saw does spoof of Nicole Kidman’s AMC ad
- Saw fans slam takedown of AMC parody
- Saw X post-credits scene explained
- Saw producers reveal most “horrific” trap
- Saw 11 could happen thanks to “cliffhanger” ending
- Is Saw X based on a true story?
- Why Saw X is the longest movie in the franchise
- Saw X producers clear up timeline confusion