By Jack Carlile
After struggling to revitalise itself in the past six years since 2017’s Jigsaw, the Saw franchise has made a connection with fans and even the general public with its latest entry, Saw X.
Taking place in between the first two films, we follow John Kramer (Tobin Bell) – the
flimsily “moral” serial killer Jigsaw – as he puts his faith in an experimental cancer treatment that can supposedly save his life. However, as is expected, not everything goes quite as he had hoped, leading John to find new victims for his elaborate, tortuous traps.
The film largely serves as a return to form for the series, harkening back to the style of the original seven films, quietly discarding the last two failed attempts at breathing new life into the overall Saw story. The film’s director, Kevin Greutert, has been on board the franchise as an editor since the very beginning and also directed the sixth and seventh instalments; his understanding of these films is made evident in this latest entry.
This film’s decision to completely focus on Jigsaw is its greatest strength.
Tobin Bell is undeniably the franchise’s best asset, so much so that the filmmakers have been desperately coming up with excuses to include him in each film despite his character’s death in the third instalment. As a true protagonist here, he completely carries the film and gives it weight, despite (and
alongside) its over-the-top nature.
The Saw franchise is infamous for its ridiculous gore, recognised as spawning the horror subgenre frequently referred to as ‘torture-porn’. While that ridiculous level of cringe-inducing violence is still very much present – a necessity for die-hard fans – I would argue that this doesn’t stand out as one of the film’s more enjoyable qualities. Instead, the overall tone and perspective on Jigsaw are what makes the movie really worth a watch. Those who have followed the entire series know how the overarching plot itself becomes convoluted to the point of being silly. While Saw X doesn’t attempt to recontextualise and further complicate the timeline with an obligatory attempt at a mind-spinning plot twist, its central conceit of trying to make the audience sympathise with its infamous serial killer could certainly be seen as laughable. However, this doesn’t have to be read as a con for the film.
The Saw films have attracted a wider audience than some might suspect, many of whom take great ironic pleasure in seeing what absurd new angle these films attempt to work from – myself included. However, it is extremely difficult to believe that Greutert and the other filmmakers are ignorant of this, which is what makes it work. Their attempt to make the audience sympathise with a borderline psychotic serial killer feels half genuine and half ironic, letting us enjoy how absurd and flimsy this concept is while still finding it mildly satisfying by the time we reach the end of the film. Of course, we can understand how horrific and desperate of a situation John Kramer finds himself in, but as we cut to see him relaxing on a park bench and sketching quick doodles of his next elaborate torture devices, we can perhaps permit ourselves a quick laugh.
To call Saw X a great film by any means would be much more than a stretch. While being well executed for what it is, it isn’t likely to top your all-time favourites. That being said, it is a generally positive turn for the franchise as a whole, and (taking into account its over-the-top gore and silliness) can be called generally enjoyable.