The tenth entry in any franchise, let alone horror, is a monumental milestone. What began in 2004 with Saw, a twisty thriller that introduced John “Jigsaw” Kramer as a mastermind trap engineer, quickly gave way to an enduring horror franchise where the traps got gnarlier and the timeline increasingly more convoluted once Jigsaw and favorite apprentice Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) were lethally removed from the equation. Both are back in Saw X, a milestone sequel that goes back to the franchise’s roots to a deeply satisfying degree.
Saw X, set between Saw and Saw II, introduces John Kramer as he struggles with his terminal cancer diagnosis. Facing months to live, Kramer finds hope from fellow cancer support group member Henry (Michael Beach), whose radical life-saving procedure points him in the direction of elusive Dr. Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund). Dr. Pederson offers reassurances and a coveted spot in her experimental medical program, but it requires a steep price tag and a trip to Mexico City. Desperate to live, Kramer’s willing to pay the price.
But when he realizes there’s something deeply amiss with Dr. Pederson’s program, well, hell hath no fury like Jigsaw scorned.
Director/Editor Kevin Greutert, who’s been with Saw since the start, knows this franchise well, and it shows. Working from a screenplay by Pete Goldfinger & Josh Stolberg, Greutert takes time to establish the setup, reestablish Kramer’s code of ethics, and introduce the new group of unwitting players. While that means a slower start to the trademark traps than more recent entries, it’s necessary groundwork for the emotional stakes that build to a gratifying payoff later.
The traps seem straightforward at first, but that simplicity lets the gore shine in exhilarating, jaw-dropping ways. Not only does the carnage flow freely, impressively handled by Fractured FX, but it’s bolstered by an impressive cast of newcomers that fearlessly commit to the harrowing acts. While Saw X marks a return to form, this new group of survivors with a palpable determination to live lends a refreshing new angle. That strong will to live is matched by a cunning intelligence in Dr. Pederson, changing the game for Kramer in unexpected ways.
Greutert, Goldfinger & Stolberg approach this tenth entry with a reverence for the franchise’s history while making it accessible for newcomers. Setting it so early in the timeline allows for fan favorites to return, with Bell and Smith picking up as if they’d never left. Bell brings gallows humor that reminds audiences why Jigsaw and his penchant for traps became an instant horror icon in the first place. His engineering skills and strict moral code make him fearsome for enemies, but Bell brings a tender warmth here. Smith’s Amanda feels perfectly in line with where we meet her in Saw II, a fragile former drug addict deeply loyal to Kramer and his quest.
The franchise callbacks don’t end there – stay for a mid-credit scene – but the script ensures no homework is necessary going in.
The carefully plotted Saw X builds so thrillingly that by the time “Hello Zepp” kicks in, the urge to cheer and holler is overwhelming. The traps are brutal and unrestrained; prepare for a lot of wincing at the screen. But they carry with them an emotional impact on both the characters and the story. The only misstep here is a loose ending for one character that feels more in service of a potential plot continuation. If that means we get to see more of Kramer and Amanda in the future, that’s a small price to pay.
Saw X delivers a franchise high, and that’s no small feat ten installments deep. There’s a comfortable sense of awareness and humor found in a sequel that utilizes its pared-back simplicity to showcase the characters and gore. Whether you’re new to the franchise or a diehard fanatic, Saw X is an easy recommendation this Halloween season. Welcome back, Jigsaw.
Saw X releases in theaters on September 29.
Looking to play a game this Halloween? Bring the Saw franchise to your neighborhood.