I’ve always had a soft spot for the Saw series.
There’s always something about Billy the Puppet riding his tricycle to greet a new victim or popping up on a TV screen to introduce a game. The more I watched the sequels, the more I grew to appreciate what the film makers were trying to do. But trying to have a deep plot and using the same screen time having people stuck in gory traps, meant that a genuinely interesting storyline was left on the cutting room floor.
It was this even mix of the gore and story that makes the first 3 films my favourite of the series, so going back to this to this formula is what will make Saw X sit comfortably as my favourite Saw film. Taking place between the events of Saw and Saw 2, John Kramer (Tobin Bell)’s terminal brain cancer leaves him with months to live and growing increasingly desperate, he takes the advice of a fellow cancer supports group participant.
This advice takes him to Mexico for a miracle treatment from some of the greatest scientific minds in the world, led by Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund) who claims it will completely cure his cancer. The truth is revealed that no treatment existed and for it only to be a scam to take money from the most desperate and the dying that have exhausted all other options. Using his usual method of people having to ‘save themselves’ as a way to hold these con artists accountable, not just for himself but for Cecillia’s countless other victims, the game John sets inflicts pain on its participants more than any game seen before.
In the previous Saw film, John Kramer floated in and out like a ghost, either through flashback or from the films non-linear storytelling. This in hindsight didn’t flesh John’s character out as much as he deserved. Giving Tobin Bell so much screen time grants him the ability to demonstrate a clear difference between Jigsaw and John Kramer, not just through the voice taps he leaves, but to see the way he confronts the victims of his traps face to face.
It’s hard to deny that Tobin Bell’s performance is part of what makes this series so great. His face may not be as noticeable as his voice but Bell uses every frame to make sure his face will be as remembered.
As the films trailer shows, Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) returns, giving Bell and Smith more screentime, meaning the relationship that they have in the sequels gives them more dimension. Having Amanda be more involved here adds an important contextual layer to her character for the following films while offering an explanation to her actions for the earlier films.
Smith’s performance here is her best in the series, writers; Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger have given her character interactions that make her more than a Jigsaw loyalist. What we see of Amanda in this film is her standing up to John. Regarding the fate of Gabriela (Renata Vaca), a fellow addict, Amanda’s addiction and sobriety is only really used in the other films as proof that Jigsaw’s ideology works and her having an open-hearted discussion about it with John, shows that it’s still something she hasn’t recovered from, having empathy for people with addiction.
Now, I’m sure the question you’re all wondering, what about the traps? This isn’t the goriest in the series but the blood does flow. I say it isn’t the goriest in the series but the traps Jigsaw creates has his participants finding themselves in more painful situations than in previous films. I did get to see Billy cycle in to set up one of the most uncomfortable traps in the film and unfortunately it was also the one that featured one of my deepest fears. Along with Billy, another Saw staple is the track ‘Hello Zepp’ (Zepp X in this film) during the film’s climax, and this climax was my most favourite ever.
Previous films have felt forced, more like cleaning up loose ends, but because Saw X is more self-contained, it felt like Leigh Whannel had returned as a screenwriter; no fluff with the story being exactly what the audience were here for.
Saw X felt like Kevin Greutert wanted to give Jigsaw the return he deserves, I mean, the tagline is “witness the return of Jigsaw” after all. There really wasn’t a bad performance here as everyone brought their ‘A’ game. After all, no one wants to be the bad actor in the movie that sees the return of John Kramer and Amanda.
I don’t think anyone will be walking into this expecting high cinema, but this was the highest cinema of the franchise so far. Gone is the ugly quick editing and jump cuts, the lighting is no longer that ugly shade of green, and it was just really refreshing to watch a Saw movie that didn’t feel like a demand from the studio.
I don’t expect everyone to love this movie, not everyone will have the stomach for the gorier aspects and that sadly does isolate a majority of the public. However, if you could handle the gore from the first Saw film, then watching this may be rewarding for you. Saw X has a solid story and the film does have some heart to it. Just be prepared for the possibility of still throwing up into your popcorn box.