Saw X brings the magic back in a big way. Given this is the tenth movie in a horror franchise that began in 2004, it was a pleasant surprise to enjoy a film so simple and confident in a genre overcrowded with mediocre production and over-complicated narratives. It may be strange to think of “torture porn” as nostalgic, but that’s exactly what we have here.
Directed by franchise regular Kevin Greutert (Saw VI, Saw 3D), Saw X follows the infamous Jigsaw killer John Kramer (Tobin Bell) exacting revenge on a group of doctors running a scam on the terminally ill, Kramer included. Those familiar with the Saw formula should already be comfortable with the what and the why of Jigsaw and his motivations. Unlike its predecessors, however, Saw X doesn’t try to explain the how. The movie doesn’t care how Jigsaw is able to set his traps so quickly – and neither will you. There’s no complicated plots about betrayals and misdirection and false deaths. Nothing but screams and lots of blood.
Speaking of which, tremendous praise goes to the acting and production. Horror movies tend to be hit-or-miss when it comes to portraying authentic pain and terror, but the entire cast brought their “A” game. I’m rarely squeamish watching most splatter-filled horror movies, but those screams felt sincere and truly overwhelming. I’ll admit I had to step out for a moment to catch my breath; the blood looked real and I was feeling every twist and pull of the metal.
The standouts were obvious, especially John Kramer and Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) reprising their roles as Jigsaw and his assistant respectively, but the scamming doctors really rose to meet the movie’s energy. What makes the difference is how much time we spend with Kramer instead of his victims, his character acting as a kind of anti-hero, a crusader for the dozens of cancer patients swindled out of their life savings by false hope. But his revenge is still brutal, oftentimes too much, and thus we also get to root for the victims.
What helps this change of perspective is how, unlike previous entries in the franchise, Jigsaw’s traps are in the open for all participants to see. We get a crowd dynamic as opposed to a singular relationship, akin to team sports instead of one-on-one matches; Jigsaw and Amanda vs. the doctors. Everyone is morally bankrupt and it works brilliantly.
Saw X left me satisfied and honestly a little nervous on the way home. The story was concise, the traps fresh and exciting, and I always felt connected to the characters on screen, whether I was rooting for or against them. Even if you felt burnt out by recent Saw films, or a fan of visceral horror, maybe it’s time to step into something a little more nostalgic and bloody. Either way, it’s a damn good time with a true horror icon.