4.5 out of 5 stars

Yes, I’m sick. Sick from the disease eating away at me inside. Sick of people who don’t appreciate their blessings. Sick of those who scoff at the suffering of others. I’m sick of it all!John Kramer

The indignation of John Kramer (Tobin Bell) in Saw (2004) has come full circle with Saw X, set between the original and Saw II (2005). Alive but not well, John is facing a life-or-death countdown with his latest diagnosis only giving him a few months left to live, so this desperate old man finds himself the prey of callous Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund) and her fraudulent medical team promising a cancer cure in Mexico.

‘If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw’ was the marketing gimmick that forced every Saw sequel to rush into production ready for next October’s deadline. Kevin Greutert, having edited the first five, has now achieved the wildest range of directing efforts with Saw VI (2009) and Saw VII (2010), covering the highs and lows of the saga. Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger wrote the intended relaunch of Jigsaw (2017), before staying on to develop Chris Rock’s pitch to Lionsgate for Spiral (2021) and now this tenth instalment.

The notion of Saw X has been percolating with producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules since 2018, so an early September release suggests this isn’t just another Halloween-mandated Saw… but a genuinely good film.

After the 108-minute-long Saw III (2006), a supposed studio mandate limited subsequent films to a tight 90. Saw X outlasts III by 10 minutes and proves that two hours only builds the rollercoaster ride to greater heights. The best Saw’s give us time to build empathy with the victims, and the biggest victim here is serial killer John Kramer. The first half of Saw X avoids gears and wires and all manner of sharp objects in favour of an emotional narrative of how people fall victim to hucksters answering their prayers with the false promise of miracles. The scam played out gives audiences every reason to want to see these heartless bastards pay with their blood, and yet John insists everyone deserves a chance at rehabilitation.

Is Saw X the next horror deserving of an Academy Award nod? At 81 years old, acting in a prequel set 20 years ago, Tobin Bell’s age only enhances his performance as every micro-expression flitters between weatherworn condemnation to sparkling inspiration. Shawnee Smith makes a welcome return as his pig-costumed sidekick, Amanda, and is significant to the emotional throughline by processing John’s mortality and bearing the weight of his legacy. She’s not as integral to the plot as she was during Saw II and III, sadly, as there are times she’s just standing around providing some levity with acerbic Cliff Notes of each game’s rules.

Though their tests aren’t cooperative, chaining the rest of the cast together in one location allows them to communicate and reveal their true characters. They all give their lungs good exercise in the gruesome surgical games, with Matteo (Octavio Hinojosa) and Valentina (Paulette Hernandez) heavily featured in the promotional material. An old-school Gigli saw replaces the classic hacksaw as John is very much into removing feet this time, and the DIY brain surgery is the most literal example of messing with your mind. Thankfully not spoiled by the trailers, Cecilia will no doubt go down as one of Jigsaw’s most memorable subjects: an immovable object meets an unstoppable force as two people dedicated to their convictions of the world try to convince the other of their hypocrisy.

The many sequels mythologised John far above criticism but Saw X affords his victims an opportunity to hold a mirror to his crazy bullshit. We know John must survive for Saw II but his humbling here paints a beautiful character study on what it costs to allow his victims to test his resolve in perhaps the tensest third act of the entire franchise.

Saw X may also deliver the most satisfying twist to date. Heresy for many fans to hear! Contrast with the chronological chicanery of II and IV (2006), or the cameo reveals in VII and Jigsaw, every twist and turn here organically pays off as a genuine comeuppance for the characters, not simply to shock the audience. Having seen it once there’s been little ‘fridge logic’ haunting me; those gnawing issues one only realises hours later while looking in the fridge, making me ask myself “Hang on, how on earth did John predict that?”

When the synopsis for Saw X was first revealed, I thought of Star Wars. The classic trilogy that told the original rise and fall of the iconic John Kramer, the sequels which were sometimes prequels and added so much lore, and the fresh takes for new generations attempting to move forward with nods to its legacy. The chance to experience an unknown chapter, existing between the earlier films, is exactly what Disney is doing with The Mandalorian and Ahsoka right now. Fans were as excited to see the return of a dirty bathroom as they were Luke Skywalker.

Saw X also avoids settling for being Saw 1.5, full of lazy call-backs, Easter Eggs, and name checks. Instead, Kevin Greutert delivers a strong standalone experience that recaptures the essence of what made Saw so great. Trust the filmmakers to leave fans with one last agonising game: the tough choice of where to place Saw X in the series’ overall ranking. Wherever it lands, it’s going to be damn high up there.


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Cast & Crew

director: Kevin Greutert.
writer: Peter Goldfinger & Josh Stolberg.
starring: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund, Steven Brand, Renata Vaca & Michael Beach.