Saw X (2023, dir. Kevin Greutert) is the tenth installment of the Saw franchise but takes place between the first Saw and Saw II. The narrative follows John Kramer (played by Tobin Bell) who is alive and actively fighting his brain cancer. Per the referral of a group therapy acquaintance, John contacts a group of surgeons in Mexico who promise to remove his cancer. This group ends up being full of scammers who take the money and hope of those months away from dying. Disappointed again by humanity, John Kramer and his apprentice Amanda (played by Shawnee Smith) round the scammers up for a night of games.
This review will be completely spoiler free. While there are more in-depth topics I’d love to include, I do not want to ruin anything for those who have not gotten the opportunity to see it and/or want to know if it might be worth seeing. All topics discussed, such as Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith returning, have been revealed well before the film’s premiere.
The anxious anticipation for Saw X to hit theaters was my Barbie. It’s a franchise I’ve had an intense interest in well before my parents ever allowed me to watch the first Saw. It beaconed me like Gatsby’s green light in the aisles of Blockbuster. I didn’t understand why, but I always attempted to get my hands on it and once I did I have never let go. The Saw franchise has nestled its way into my heart as a series of films that I will always love and defend despite its flaws. That is why although Jigsaw and Spiral made me question how good this tenth installment could be, I still held out hope because of one key plot element – John Kramer was back. For Saw X, Tobin Bell reprised his role as John Kramer/Jigsaw and was the main character again as opposed to exclusively being in flashback cameos where he’s wearing a baseball cap. I believe it was a perfect decision to set the film back to a time when John was still alive rather than continuing to fumble forward when there’s nothing much left to explore because he’s someone that the audience already recognizes and knows as the biggest player in the series. Jigsaw and Spiral suffered from containing purely new characters (aside from John’s cameo in Jigsaw) who barely hold any connection to the original storyline or characters that fans care about. By going back between the first and the second films, not only does the franchise’s primary character return but fans get a deeper, more personal insight into John and his work before he was killed off too soon in Saw III.
Likewise, Saw X gives fans deeper insight into the character Amanda Young – one of Jigsaw’s first apprentices who holds a significant role in the first three films. I’m very happy with Amanda’s role in Saw X and the way that she’s portrayed. While fans are most familiar with the cut throat, sort of bitchy Amanda from Saw III, Saw X portrays the student Amanda who is quiet and prepared to learn. It also displays a sympathetic Amanda in regards to a victim who she believes has no reason to be there and John believes is just as guilty as the others. Knowing the type of person she’ll end up becoming, I love this addition to Amanda’s character development. In fact, Saw X might be my favorite depiction of Amanda we’ve received.
It wouldn’t be Saw without discussing gore and torture. The traps in Saw X were fantastic, new, and returned to the classic make-shift, clunky nature of the first few films. If you read my review on Jigsaw, one of my main complaints was how clean and sterile the environments and traps were. Saw X has gone back to the grungy, rusted, and messy ways of its first few years. Not only was the environment back to filth and dirt, but the traps themselves were incredibly brutal in their simplicity. Many of the traps in Saw X one might define as “basic” or very improvised, however these basic traps are some of the most uncomfortable and gorey the series has had to offer. For the sake of providing an example for what I mean, one trap involves the subject to crush and break their own hand with a sledgehammer in order to free themselves. And if you want to know my favorite trap in Saw X – it’s Valentina’s. There’s also a great twist that happens with one of the final traps that long-time fans of the series will enjoy.
Overall, Saw X brought back a lot of what made me love the franchise in the first place: an unhinged but intelligent antagonist, a group of people trapped in a room screaming at each other, self mutilation, and the friends we made along the way.
Saw X – A Tier
I’m very happy to say Saw X might be one of the better installments of the franchise. Not only did it successfully stray from the overdone “catch Jigsaw” formula, but it provided an engaging backstory for two characters fans go crazy over – John and Amanda. The story was refreshing and the crew behind Saw X wasn’t kidding when they teased that this would be John’s most personal game. While narratively the game is personal for John, it’s also a Saw film that’s focused on telling its narrative exclusively through John’s point of view which we’ve never received before. For long-time Saw fans who keep up with the characters and overarching plot, this is the most intimate the audience has been with John’s character. Or, in other words, John Kramer is finally getting the full attention his character has always deserved. I will state that if one enjoys the Saw films solely for the traps and they don’t care about the underlying story taking place throughout the films, then they may not enjoy Saw X very much. It is a slow grind and very narratively focused on John and Amanda, however it does still provide ample gore and discomfort when it comes to the traps. I highly recommend Saw X to those who are fans of the first three to four Saw films and I hope to see it a second time while it's still in theaters.
Saw X is playing in theaters now.