Saw X Review: A Gut-Wrenching, Painful Experience

Hello, reader. I want to play a game. Can you guess how many Saw movies we’ve gotten since the definitive Saw: The Final Chapter came out? Not one, not two, but three Saw movies. This horror franchise has been running since James Wan’s original film nearly two decades ago. We now have Saw X, the tenth film in the series. Before I continue, I want to clarify that I’m a hater of most of these movies. The first 2004 Saw is excellent, and the sequel, Saw II, is underrated. Nearly every sequel after that has been horrible in its own way.

When Saw X came out and got a positive critical reception (Certified Fresh at 85% on Rotten Tomatoes), that caught my eye. Not even the original Saw film has a positive grade on that site. With the buzz surrounding what many were calling the best movie in the series, I knew I needed to check it out. Having seen it, my opinions on the franchise have not changed. As much as Saw X attempts to reinvent the wheel, it falls upon many of the same pitfalls as its predecessors. There’s much to appreciate about this movie, and part of me understands why people are raving about it. However, there is so much to unpack about why Saw X did not work for me.

First of all, this film sees the return of John Kramer. Since he unceremoniously died at the end of Saw III, the series has grasped at straws to keep the character around. The sequels have built a ludicrous timeline filled with numerous Jigsaw apprentices. It got to the point where we finally got something slightly different in 2021, with Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson headlining Spiral: From the Book of Saw, which followed a Jigsaw copycat killer. However, Saw X does not build off the three new Jigsaw killers introduced in Saw: The Final Chapter, Jigsaw, or Spiral. Instead, it goes back to basics, jumping earlier in the timeline to a story between Saw 1 and 2.

It’s not a bad idea because it allows the most famous character in the series to take the spotlight. Most of the other Saw movies only feature John Kramer in flashbacks. Here, he’s front and center as the main character. Making the antagonist of your franchise the protagonist is a daring move, but does it pay off? For a while, it does. You spend the first act with John, an old man dying of cancer. Instead of beginning the movie as many Saw films do with a trap, John is trapped by his tumor, fighting to live. Rarely do we have this much downtime in a Saw movie, as it starts out very much like a drama about a man’s battle with cancer.

Saw X separates itself from the sequels that came before. We don’t have a non-stop police investigation intercut with scenes of gory traps. We start off with John so desperate to live that he agrees to an experimental cancer treatment. It’s easy to sympathize with him initially, especially as he helps a boy fix his bike. We spend time on the connections he forms with the people who cure him. Ready to put the serial killer’s life behind him, he embraces the beauty of his life on his own terms. However, his newfound compassion leads him to discover that the doctors were con artists and that his cancer was never cured.

From there, we get the movie we paid to see in a twisted story of vengeance. It’s fascinating how superb the opening of Saw X is. You spend a lot of time with the other characters, so their eventual betrayal of John becomes heartbreaking. While Jigsaw’s past and future victims have been bad people, this is the first time we see the characters be bad people, and then we see them in the trap rather than vice versa. The first half is better than it has any right to be, with Tobin Bell back in his element as his iconic character. There’s one “classic” Saw trap sequence in the first half, which feels obligatory, as if it’s only there to remind you this is a Saw movie and so that you don’t find yourself too bored by the drama, waiting for more of the good stuff.

Once the Jigsaw killer returns, Saw X falters. One of the famous trademarks of Saw is the victims being kidnapped by a person in a pig mask. This happens a few times here, but most of the sequences are not filled with enough suspense. There’s a moment surrounding a security camera that works fine, but overall, most of these scares don’t work. Not enough time is spent on these scenes. However, we reveal who is the person behind the pig mask. It is none other than Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith), a fan-favorite character who was Jigsaw’s first apprentice.

Many lovers of the series will be happy to see Amanda again. But a lover of the series, I am not. First of all, Smith looks far too old for the character. It’s been nearly 20 years since Saws 1 and 2, which is when this movie takes place. She is visibly older, and there is no attempt to hide an actress in her 50s playing a woman in her 30s. What they should have hidden was the horrible-looking wig that they had attached to her head. It’s a very obvious wig that you will notice every time she is on screen. Her appearance in the film does not work as well as Bell as John because John is supposed to be an old man dying of cancer, so it makes sense for him to look older.

But let’s move past that. First of all, when we reveal that Amanda is under the pig mask, we get multiple flashbacks to scenes that happened just three minutes prior. Only this time, we see Amanda take off the pig mask while incapacitating earlier victims. Why did we need to see any of this? Did director Kevin Greutert expect us not to make the connection that she was under the mask every time we saw someone get knocked out? It would be less offensive if he didn’t do this again later in the film, when we have twists and then we flash back to the foreshadowing that happened only five minutes ago! Saw X treats us like we’re idiots, but given that we all paid money for this movie, I suppose we are.

Furthermore, if you examine the movie, Amanda actually has no purpose in the narrative whatsoever. She does nothing in the film that John couldn’t do himself. She spends much of the film echoing John’s statements, following him around and doing what he does. If you took her out of the story entirely, Saw X would be the same. She’s here because she’s a fan favorite, and chronologically, she technically belongs. People who felt like we didn’t get to see enough of John and Amanda together will be happy with this film. As a person with no connection to Amanda, I found that she lived in John’s shadow for most of the movie, not doing anything remotely interesting.

With all the con artists kidnapped, we have a Saw movie. It delivers the gratuitous gore you expect, soaking the screen with blood and tissue. You may need to look away from the screen as the characters get torn to pieces. There are a few exciting traps that will have you squirming with disgust. However, the morality at the center of Saw X is confusing. You don’t feel too bad for these people in the traps because they’re con artists profiting from cancer patients. However, there’s a layer of mean-spiritedness surrounding every trap, particularly with their results. Everything leaves the worst possible taste in your mouth. You don’t feel satisfaction or joy watching these horrible people in traps because, for the most part, it still feels uncalled for. You’re likely not rooting for them to die despite everything they’ve done.

There’s an element that seems like it’s going for poetic justice, especially because Jigsaw’s actions are more justified here than they were in previous installments. Despite the attempts at returning to the idea that each victim can make a choice to live, it never commits to that. Jigsaw’s logic has always been grounded but contradictory and hypocritical. Saw X even references this, but that doesn’t stop it from going down that route again. With a premise like this, you find yourself either rooting for your serial killer protagonist to kill these people, rooting for a group of bloodthirsty con artists to escape death, or in my case, not caring about any of it because everyone on screen is horrible.

Moreover, much of the fear of Jigsaw typically surrounds how he’s a disembodied voice. Billy the Puppet speaks for him, and we get the sense that he’s an unstoppable force, an eye in the sky. However, this movie puts John front and center, remember? So it loses that element. Also, a few tonal clashes here don’t work because we have the most violent thing you’ve seen all year, followed by a genuine attempt at an emotional character moment. With all of the blood and guts in this film, it feels like this franchise appeals to the sickest of sadists. It also features one of the weakest plot twists in the entire franchise.

But now, we have to get into the most puzzling choice of Saw X: making John the anti-hero. Although John has always had a rationale, this movie really wants you to sympathize with him. This movie commits the same egregious error as recent films like Don’t Breathe 2 and Orphan: First Kill. This mistake is where they take the horrible person from the first movie, surround them with even more horrible people, and expect you to care about the villain of the first movie, even though they’re still a villain! I hate this trend of horror where the most reprehensible of villains need to be redeemed in a sequel or prequel.

It gets even more problematic when you consider that scene I mentioned earlier where John befriends a child and fixes his bike for him. Do you realize the next movie in the series chronologically is Saw II? A movie where John Kramer kidnaps a detective’s child? Are you really trying to get me invested in John’s heartfelt relationship with a kid when the next movie features him tying up a kid and locking him in a safe? The final shot solidifies Saw X as an utterly baffling movie.

Like most Saw movies, Saw X revels in your misery as a viewer. None of these films are particularly fun to watch because they mainly consist of the human body getting torn into pieces in graphic, bloody fashion. This is a tasteless franchise, but admittedly, Saw X is one of the better movies. I put it on par with Saw VI, another of the more acceptable sequels. However, saying this is one of the better movies in this series is not saying much. If anything, it says a lot more about how bad the other films must be. The Final Chapter came out 13 years ago, for crying out loud! However, if you like the franchise, you’ll probably eat this one up. Watch or skip? The choice is yours.

SCORE: 5/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 5 equates to “Mediocre.” The positives and negatives wind up negating each other, making it a wash.

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