This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie/series/feature being covered here wouldn't exist.
"Combining terrific performances, thorough character development and plenty of gut-wrenching gore, Saw X becomes the best sequel of the franchise to date."
BY BECCA JOHNSON OCTOBER 2, 2023
Directed by Kevin Greutert, Saw X is the tenth film in the popular horror franchise Saw, slotting tidily between Saw (2004) and Saw II (2005). We follow John Kramer as he travels to Mexico for a risky yet promising medical procedure in the hope to cure his cancer. Upon finding out the miracle procedure is actually a scam, Kramer is armed with a newfound purpose and returns to his work, wreaking havoc on the con artists with his signature traps.
Whether you're a Saw superfan or a casual watcher, we can all agree on one thing – the franchise has some weak entries, particularly in the latter half. This means many were sceptical of Saw X, worrying about it being a weak excuse to bring Kramer back and a pointless money-grabbing prequel/sequel hybrid – Saw X proves us wrong, managing to avoid all horror prequel tropes to become something pretty special. At 118 minutes it's the longest in the franchise, taking it's time with it's story and characters to create something more meticulous, likeable and gritty. It is well written, cleverly paced and does what all previous Saw entries should have done – placed the star, John Kramer, front and centre.
What Saw X does best is something the franchise hasn't yet managed to provide much of – character development. It's surprising to find a shlocky gore-fest so full of heart, emotion and character work, but it truly pays off. We follow John at a hard time in his life, when he is utterly terrified of dying and tries to do anything he can to stop it. We see him in a more vulnerable light, the movie actually manages to make us sympathise with him and understand his way of thinking a little more thoroughly. John Kramer, who although dominates this franchise, is usually a side character - it's refreshing and fun for Saw X to truly lean into his story and place him as the lead. In turn, this allows actor Tobin Bell to give his best performance of his career, dominating the screen with ease and invoking fear, understanding, sympathy and terror on the audience.
Fans of the franchise were also excited to have favourite Amanda Young back, and similarly to Kramer, Saw X makes her return worthwhile by fully fleshing out her character, giving her plenty of layers and making her a pivotal part of not only the story of this movie, but the franchise as a whole. We see Amanda as Kramer's apprentice, trying to learn the ropes but being too afraid to carry on after he dies, worrying she won't do him justice, and battling with her morality. It really taps into her love and admiration for Kramer and his ideas, yet her fear of taking the reins. It is a really interesting relationship to explore, and it's explored particularly well. Shawnee Smith gives a truly fantastic performance, the pair working so well together to prove why they are the franchises most beloved characters. It'll definitely please the fans.
The reason many of the Saw instalments aren't favoured so well is because of how convoluted the story has become. With nine instalments prior to this one, all full of flashbacks, cameos and a plethora of ways the characters and storylines come together, it is quite confusing, even for those who have visited the franchise more than once. Thankfully, Saw X takes things back to basics – it's a simpler, less convoluted revenge tale, that allows Kramer to do what he does best. What makes this one stand out from the rest is that for the first time perhaps ever, we have a fully fleshed out villain for Kramer, and we are behind him all the way; his victims are the worst of the worst, and deserve all that's coming to them. Someone we feared is now someone we sympathise with, and watching him enact his well-earned revenge is ridiculously fun. It takes it's time to get going, but that only means the payoff is greater and we have more context and background.
All that being said, most of us don't watch Saw for it's intricate storyline and character development, we are here for one reason only – the traps. Saw X has plenty of gore, exciting traps and becomes an absolute bloodbath by the end credits. The traps may not be as iconic as others in the series, particularly the fan-favourite Reverse Bear Trap, but they will undoubtedly stick in your mind and make you squirm and maybe even need to look away. Time will tell how they stand out against the rest of the franchise. Due to the plot of the movie, many of the traps have a medical/surgical theme, which adds another layer of queasiness into the mix. In true Saw fashion, we see our victims slicing and dicing themselves against the clock, and it is utterly gruesome. Those coming purely for the horror may have to wait for what they desire, but surely won't be let down by the last act.
Saw X is shockingly great, pulling off something that few people were expecting. It's script is excellent, adding in plenty of development in plot and character, and even some incredibly dark witty humour that is so natural that it often feels unintentional. Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith are at their best, the traps are disgustingly gory and the two hour runtime flies by. Saw X slots neatly between the first and second instalments, feeling totally worthwhile and adding more to the franchise than any other sequel has managed to. It does right what so many prior instalments have done wrong, easily becoming the best entry since the original. Run, don't walk, straight to the cinema to check this one out – and stick around for the mid-credits scene.