Saw X (2023)

To put things in perspective the original Saw was a film that James and Leigh Whannell put together as a resumé builder.  It was all filmed in the same warehouse they rented, the car chase was them shaking the vehicles to make it look like they were moving and Whannell was one of the actors.  The two big names they were able to get were Cary Elwes and character actor Tobin Bell.

This was in 2004.  It is now short of 20 years since that original film came out, and the series is now on its 10th entry.  John Kramer (Bell), aka Jigsaw, a former architect who is dying of cancer and uses complicated traps and torture devices to make people re-evaluate the lives, has been dead for most of them.  Unlike most horror franchises that resurrect the killer again and again, Kramer has stayed dead, often seen only in the flashback scenes that either set up the action for the movie or explain a mindbending, and sometimes borderline nonsensical, set of twists that led to the ending of the particular segment.  

While always in the background or, while alive, setting up the action with the help of his most faithful acolyte Amanda (Shawnee Smith) and police Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), it has almost always been the victims or the police trying to stop Jigsaw that have been the focus of the films.  By Spiral pretty much everyone involved in committing the murders and the original case were dead and the killer had their own motives - revenge, rather than teaching people a lesson - with only the intricate traps being left over from the original films.  It hinted that future movies would involve a cat-and-mouse relationship between Chris Rock's Detective Banks and a new killer played by Patrick McManus.

Spiral was okay, and it had some of the spirit of the later Saw movies, but it didn't exactly return the series to the hit status of its past.  This was despite bringing back director Darryn Lynn Bousman, who had seen the series through some of its most successful sequels.  Instead writers Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg made John Kramer the center of everything this time and brought back Kevin Greutert, who had worked on Saw VI forward.  

After the events in Saw John Kramer is dealing with his cancer the best he can.  When Henry Kessler (Michael Beach), a former member of his support group, shows up supposedly cured by a new method created by a doctor in Oslo, Kramer becomes curious.  It turns out the doctor's daughter Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund) is working out of a secret laboratory outside of Mexico City and is able to fit Kramer in.  Upon arrival, although the operation is off the grid, it appears that Cecilia is carrying on her father's work along with a number of local medical professionals.

Unfortunately, when Kramer figures out the location of the old power plant where he was treated and goes to bring a present to Gabriela (Renata Vaca), the girl whose family owns the location, he finds it deserted.  He also soon figures out the treatment was fake.  Using his resources he tracks down Cecilia, Gabriela and the others involved - Mateo (Octavio Hinajosa), the supposed anaesthesiologist, and surgical assistant Valentina (Paulette Hernandez).  Amanda arrives to assist him in capturing them and, with a number of improvised traps, he begins to convince them to reconsider their lives. 

One of the big criticisms - and one that the series has been retconning constantly since the first film - is Kramer being able to build much of his stuff on his own.  It turns out that Amanda and Hoffman assisted in all of it, and much of it took a long time to put together.  In fact, Saw: The Final Chapter included much of what was a dry run for Kramer's more elaborate devices.  In this case things seem a bit more realistic.  One victim has improvised pipe bombs attached to his arms on timers.  Others featured cutting implements and the surgical and medical equipment that Cecilia left behind prior to preparing to head on to the next country.  It is all stuff one, without a huge suspension of disbelief, could imagine a determined couple of people setting up in preparation of doing what they do.  There is also no specific timeline mentioned, giving a little leeway.

I have no idea why the previous movies didn't go with having John Kramer as the main character at some point other than writing themselves into a corner when they decided he would be dead after the third movie.  It seems like, especially after learning what was behind a lot of his reasoning in Saw VI, that it would be only natural, as well as a lot more interesting, to focus on him rather than Hoffman or more police procedurals.  Now that they have I can say that Saw X rivals the original for the best movie in the series.

A major improvement is also that we don't start with traps or flashbacks or anything to shock the audience but, save for a dream sequence, a good portion of the first third of the movie is setting things up and getting to know Kramer once again as well as connecting with him on an emotional level it has been impossible to in the previous movies.  While still delivering what one expects, Saw X also proves that a change in the formula was what was needed rather than just more of the same with different characters.  

I do have few small quibbles, most of them having to do with Greutert's directorial choices, particularly using the "Third World Country" filter when in Mexico.  Mexico City is not in the middle of a desert, but the gritty yellow tint one would see in Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy to let the audience know they are indeed in Mexico is present.  It's a tired artistic choice that needs to be abandoned completely.  Also, like in most Saw films the urban environment seems stagey, and that continues despite the higher budget.  On a good note, although John and Amanda are obviously much older than they would have been at the time this takes place, there are no horrible plastic de-aging effects used. 

It should come as no surprise that this movie does leave things open for sequels if it does well, although by necessity it has to be open ended because the events take place between the first two movies and it is already known how Kramer dies and his work continues.  Saw X is a nice detour that should have come years ago instead of some of the more mediocre entries.  It also gives the franchise a good place to stop unless it truly has another decent story to tell and not just a return to the same. 

Saw X (2023)
Time: 118 minutes
Starring: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund
Director: Kevin Greutert 



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