Saw X – The BRWC Review. By Daniel Rester.
James Wan’s directorial debut Saw (2004) spawned a popular horror franchise in the 2000s, with a sequel releasing every year up through 2010. The original film is a horror classic and the first two sequels are fine. After that, the series got increasingly convoluted and gimmicky. Producers tried to reboot the franchise with Jigsaw (2017) and Spiral (2021), but despite having their moments the two films still felt limp. Enter Saw X, the tenth film in the series and another attempted reboot. Surprisingly, this one actually works well and is the best sequel yet.
Saw X takes us back to simpler times when John Kramer (Tobin Bell) and Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith in a terrible wig) were still alive by taking place between the first and second films. Kramer is in his early days as the world’s most twisted life coach when he learns he has brain cancer. “Jigsaw” agrees to a possible life-saving operation in Mexico City, but the surgery turns out to be a scam run by a woman named Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund). Pederson and her team of con artists learn the hard way that Kramer is the last person in the world you want to mess with.
Kevin Greutert steps into the director chair this time around while the screenplay comes from Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg. Greutert is a veteran in the series, having edited the majority of the films and directed the okay Saw VI (2009) and the awful Saw 3D (2010), and Goldfinger and Stolberg wrote the previous two installments. All three of them step up their game for Saw X.
The screenplay makes the bold decision to move Kramer from a shadowy villain in a supporting role to an antihero protagonist in a lead role. It takes its time building up the story and getting the audience to feel for Kramer’s cancer situation despite his highly questionable moral code. It also adds more to the John-Amanda relationship as she trains to be his eventual replacement. The torturous games of the series of course come into play, but it’s refreshing that this script makes them more natural to Kramer’s situation and less like the contrived set pieces they had become in the lesser sequels.
Greutert’s approach is much more polished and confident than before. At 118 minutes, Saw X is the longest film of the series, but the extra time is warranted as Greutert takes his time in exploring the script’s challenges and surprises. He uses a lot of fluid wide shots and as an editor he lets scenes breathe more; most of his chaotic cutting from the previous films is thankfully not present here. The game scenes are brutal and well-staged, with one involving a wire saw being a shocking standout for me.
Much of Saw X works because of Bell’s performance at the center. The actor has always been compelling as Kramer, but here he really gets to explore the character’s complexity more; he even gets in a couple of moments of dry humor. Smith is also strong as Amanda, but it’s actually Lund as the venomous Pederson who stands out more among the supporting players.
Saw X has a few forced scenes and the middle section can feel repetitive at times as Kramer moves from victim to victim. The twist in the finale this time around doesn’t hit very hard either. For the most part though, Saw X is a satisfying change of pace for the series. It is nowhere near as great as the original 2004 film, which was so surprising and fresh in its day, but it is the best of the sequels we have gotten. For a tenth installment, that’s a bloody good accomplishment.
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