Warning: whilst I won’t discuss the final act, if you care about Saw X spoilers, it’s probably best to read this after seeing the film.
An apt comparison for the experience of Saw X-the 10th instalment in the 19 year old franchise – is to imagine a Metallica concert. At the beginning of this concert James Hetfield announces they won’t attempt to play any new stuff, and they blast through the hits. Sure, we had the forgettable Jigsaw and the oft delayed Chris Rock led “kind of Saw” film Spiral: From the Book of Saw, but those films left the Saw faithful clamouring for the familiar elements of the franchise. However, they are all back here! Jigsaw himself John Kramer (Tobin Bell), his lesbian-coded apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith), Billy -the famous puppet on a tricycle- (presumably brought by Amanda to Mexico, where the film takes place?!) , a grimey visual palette reminiscent of 90s industrial rock videos and lots of gore. Oh yes. There will be blood.
Whilst the franchise may have started with James Wan’s relatively sober first film, the style of the franchise is more dictated by the sequels. This film is handled by series veteran Kevin Greutert.
And Whilst I enjoyed the sequels (or didn’t) to differing degrees, I always say that, to say that the Saw films are purely about gore is to ignore the convoluted, complex timeline of the sequels. After Spiral I was excited by the return of the aforementioned elements, but most importantly the man himself: Tobin Bell.
In this prequel Jigsaw has been operating his own brand of “life coaching” via potential death experiences for a while. He is suffering from terminal brain cancer and hears, via an associate, of a doctor offering experimental treatment that has worked wonders. In this first act Bell is fantastic, showcasing a quiet, world-weariness that is genuinely touching. Kramer travels to Mexico for this treatment, and it appears to work. However, he discovers he has been scammed – and he’s not the first dying person to be exploited. Jigsaw sets out to balance the scales of justice in his own unique way.
The smartest decision the film makes is to make Kramer’s victims truly reprehensible. “Don’t feel bad about enjoying watching these people die,” the film tells us. This is a nasty and mean-spirited film, and that is a compliment. However, it has a surprising amount of heart, particularly in moments between Amanda and John.
The film managed to have a plot that kept surprising me. The baroque traps are the stars, as always. The violence alternated between making me wince, giggle and -in one particular moment- making me question its sheer audacity.
Look, you know if you want a new Saw film or not before reading this. Neophytes need not apply. However, if you are one of the franchise faithful you may well find this instalment to be a return to form.
Saw X is currently playing in Irish cinemas.