“Live or die. Make your choice.” - Jigsaw
*I understand if you don’t want to read about my history with this franchise. If you’re just curious about Saw X skip ahead to the spot marked "Saw X Review" and read from there.*
Oh the Saw movies…
Of all the franchises in all the world, there is none more that I have a love/hate relationship with than Saw and its seemingly never ending sea of sequels. I was fifteen years old when the original movie was released. It’s hard to imagine but for whatever reason I remember seeing it for the first time like it was yesterday. I think a big reason is I saw it with my dad and I never, NEVER, saw horror movies with my dad. But I was underage and we went together. Last horror movie I ever watched with him was Hostel 2 and what a goddamn mistake that was. Before long it was always the same thing, “Horror movies are made for the devil” he would say.
Anyway, it was a few years and Saw sequels later that I met my best friend, Phillip. Aside from music the Saw franchise was one of the first things we bonded over. We loved horror movies in general but it was the yearly release of a new Saw that became tradition for us always around Halloween. Once there were enough sequels theaters started hosting marathons leading up to the newest release. This was back in the good ol’ days when they did midnight showings. We would enter the theater at 4pm and wouldn’t leave until 2 in the morning. The thought of trying that now makes me squirm but back in the day when my stamina was more significant it was a blast. I think what made it all so much fun was that everyone going to a midnight release seemed to know what they were getting into. We all kind of knew that these movies aren’t by the dictionary definition of good but dammit as a collective watching people getting horribly tortured and mutilated just put a smile on your face. God that sounds like the thoughts of a psychopath. Oh well.
It wasn’t until Saw 3D: The Final Chapter that we officially realized this train had jumped the tracks and had fully derailed. What a piece of shit that movie is. It was after that release that the franchise took a bit of a hiatus. Mercifully we thought it was for good but oh how wrong we were.
Seven years later it was revived in the form of Jigsaw and we thought there was no way it could be worse than how it ended before. But once again, we were so wrong. I’d rather watch The Final Chapter ten times over than ever sit through Jigsaw again. And then, it happened. The absolute weirdest casting news in the history of horror movies (maybe). Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson would star in Spiral: From the Book of Saw. Because of the pandemic we were left with the possible ramifications of such a thing for far longer than we ever thought we’d have to. But then as all things tend to do, it could no longer be held from our eyes and fuck do I regret that one. I would say from about Saw 5 on to Spiral was an exercise in just how much I was willing to endure. That said there is something truly special about Jigsaw and Spiral that makes the previous movies look like masterpieces on the level of The Godfather. Jigsaw and Spiral make me wish selective amnesia was an option. But this long mouth vomit led us to this moment, SAW X. God help us all.
Saw X Review:
For whatever reason (money) they keep making these damn things and I keep seeing them. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. After Spiral I swore never again but here I am telling you about what I thought of yet another Saw movie. For the most part with each new installment the biggest surprise is that each proved that it could always get worse. And it did. Every time. Needless to say I was surprised yet again with Saw X but for an entirely different reason. I say this with trepidation but it’s not terrible. I mentioned earlier that none of these movies are by the traditional sense good but they provided a specific kind of entertainment that around Halloween we were searching for. Jigsaw and Spiral are just their own kind of awful and not in a so bad it’s good kind of way. More like I want my money back kind of way.
Saw X is a return to that original form where it’s not good but to call it bad means either you’re just not a fan of any of these movies or you’ve never seen any Saw movie period. Maybe to appreciate this new release you have to be at least a casual fan of the previous but all I can do is speak from personal experience. Much of the bigger moments of Saw X rely on some basic knowledge of what has come before. Chronologically part ten takes place between the events of Saw and Saw II. Saw X operates under the assumption that its audience is familiar with elements of the through storyline that connects each movie to the next. It’s not so much interested in explaining what happened before or alluding to what’s next so much as it simply tries to expand upon the villain’s personal story who for nine movies over a twenty year period weirdly never got to be the main character in his own franchise. Think about it. Has John Kramer ever been the main focus of a single Saw movie? It’s always been about his latest reluctant students forced into learning a lesson of a lifetime. With Saw X that all changes.
One of the things lost with previous entries of Saw is a story beyond simply watching torture porn for ninety minutes. This time around we see the true frailty of John Kramer. For so long, even when he forces a reluctant doctor to perform brain surgery on him, John has always been in control. With cancer eating away at him and a serious lack of options we see John for the first time, desperate. And perhaps most significantly, we see his humanity. We witness him finally relinquish control to someone promising a real chance at a future beyond the burden of his sickness. And for a while the story demonstrates genuine tenderness. It feels hopeful at times. But it’s quick to remind everyone what exactly we’re all here waiting for.
In a single instance we see John trust again and we see him burned by man’s betrayal. At times when John sees a future for himself you can believe that just maybe he’ll forgo all the pain for a simpler existence. It isn’t until his trust is destroyed and what’s left behind is simply his insatiable need to teach his morality lessons. First up. The people who saw him at his most vulnerable and took advantage. To say they are in for a rude awakening is an understatement if I ever heard one.
Much of the first act is devoted to John trying to beat his cancer once and for all. When he crosses paths with a group of people desperately in need of his professional help is when the story takes a turn. So much of the visceral gut checks that these traps once were, were quickly replaced by over-complicated, convoluted traps that just came off as silly rather than intimidating. This time it’s back to basics with some of the most brutal traps in the history of Saw. And these traps are as simple as amputating a limb and filling a measuring weight with bodily substance. (I’m trying to be vague here. Don’t want to spoil anything.) The traps almost feel angry. You can feel the depth of John’s betrayal and he intends to make his victims feel every bit of it.
And then there’s the third act, particularly the big reveal, the major twist they hope no one saw coming. It’s not so much that we saw it coming so much as when it’s revealed we just didn’t really care. They wanted to stick the superhero landing but sprained an ankle instead. It’s the moment when you’re watching a movie you love with someone who’s never seen it. And when your favorite scene happens you look at them like, “Can you believe it?!” Unfortunately it’s not the big ah ha! moment they were hoping for. Not to mention there’s a certain character that absolutely demands being taught a morality lesson and their fate by end credits is left, if anything, ambiguous. You can infer but what fun is that? I want blood goddammit! This is Saw after all.
Saw X’s greatest strength is being remarkably better than Jigsaw and Spiral in particular. But as I’ve established, being better than those garbage heaps is a low, low bar. As the credits rolled, Phillip asked me what I thought and I didn’t really have a clear thought to give him. I was mulling. I think I know now though. Even in the moments where I was enjoying Saw X it never felt capable of becoming anything better than just fine. It’s been twenty years (next year) since the original Saw and in realizing that I came to the conclusion that I am simply a different person from who I was two decades ago. I’ve grown as have my tastes in movies. I don’t think I’m meant to like these movies like I did when I was fifteen and sixteen years old. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t able to appreciate the strengths of this new Saw and perhaps this leaves open the possibility of re-exploring the franchise and giving a fresh perspective on a franchise I once loved, even amidst the worst moments of it.
(In the coming month of October I intend to watch the franchise from beginning to end reviewing each movie as I go. I’m curious to see how I feel about this whole thing now as a, oh God, as a thirty-four year old man.)
As for Saw X, it’s as I said, fine. It’s better than what has come before it but that is little in the way of braggadocious. John “Jigsaw” Kramer is humanized for the first time and the traps are as brutal as ever. The big twist leaves its audience a bit wanting and reluctant to continue on with anymore movies which are for sure on their way. For the Saw fans it’s perfectly serviceable with flaws and strengths alike. As for anyone not familiar with these movies, I’d stay away.
Rated R For: sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, language and some drug use
Runtime: 118 minutes
After Credits Scene: One. Mid-credits.
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Starring: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund, Renata Vaca
Directed By: Kevin Greutert
Out of 10
Story: 7.5/ Acting: 8/ Directing: 8/ Visuals: 7
Buy to Own: I think I’m over it at this point but for the hardcore fans, sure.
Check out the trailer below: