Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans

SAW X ***


Directed by Kevin Greutert.
Starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund, Steven Brand, Michael Beach.
Horror, USA, 118 minutes, cert 18.


Released in UK cinemas on 29th September 2023.


Everyone’s favourite judgemental, sickly murderer named after something people do for a genteel hobby is back! Therefore, unsurprisingly, so are dismemberments, gallons of spurting blood and enforced unnecessary self-surgery in the bloody, entertaining tenth SAW entry.


Set between the events of SAW and SAW II, John Kramer, aka the serial killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), heads off to Mexico after hearing about a potential miracle cure for his terminal brain cancer. However, it is a con to taking advantage of the vulnerable for profit. Unluckily for these immoral scamps, Kramer is anything but vulnerable, and they soon find themselves as part of one of his devilish games.


The first SAW film (2004) is objectively great, shocking, inventive, and still packs a punch. Though not as tightly plotted and slick, the following sequels still had their charms and doubled down on the extreme and gruesome visuals. However, as the series went on, it offered diminishing returns alongside an increasingly convoluted time line culminating in the abysmal and Jigsaw-less spin-off SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW in 2021 (which, instead of Tobin Bell, treated you to Chris Rock doing a tight 5-minute set on FORREST GUMP instead).


HOWEVER, SAW X seems to have learnt its lessons and goes back to the relative simplicity of those early films. Kramer’s motivations are clear and relatable (in a way…I will admit I probably wouldn’t have acted quite the same), his main targets are enjoyably hateable, and some traps are escapable and are elaborate and surprising but not as ridiculous as some of the traps have gotten previously, which adds more tension and jeopardy to the situations when a character may or may not get out.


It’s held together by a great central performance from Tobin Bell, the producers realising they made a massive mistake by sidelining him in the later films. I think this must be the most screen time he has in any of the films, and he makes the most of it. He manages to be simultaneously sympathetic and sinister and wring some dry humour out of certain scenes (such as him just happily sketching torture trap ideas in a park in open daylight). The fact that he looks nearly two decades older than he did in the first film can be waved aside as he is meant to be very sick now. There are also enjoyable appearances made by some other fan-favourite characters, including Shawnee Smith’s Amanda and Billy the puppet and his little bike.


The traps are clever and wince-inducing (and the film includes a very novel use of intestines). If you are slightly squeamish, you should avoid this at all costs, as it certainly doesn’t hold back on the gore and viscera.


With apologies to massive SAW fans, but apart from the original, I do think there is a B-movie tackiness to most of the sequels, especially the later ones, with a lot of dodgy performances and sometimes goofy attempts to be edgy, which, although fun, prevent them from being great (not to mention the brash early 2000’s editing style which the latter films seem to have kept), and there is still some of that here but thankfully not too much.


SAW X is certainly no masterpiece, but for the tenth film in a franchise that is still effectively doing the exact same thing tonally and stylistically as it first did in 2004, the fact that it’s a solidly entertaining and fun time at the cinema seems like a miracle. I’d certainly recommend it for big SAW fans, who I think will love it, and for those that bailed early on in the series, this could be a chance to jump back on board as it’s the best that the franchise has been in over a decade.


John Upton.


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