Saw X review – America’s most blood-thirsty civil engineer is back

Review by Hannah Strong @thethirdhan

Directed by

Kevin Greutert


Shawnee Smith Synnøve Macody Lund Tobin Bell


Spiral was a real low point, but Tobin Bell is back!


Guts, gore, and a few genuinely good gags.

In Retrospect.

Fizzles out a little in the third act, but a bloody fun time.

Tobin Bell returns as the twisted killer Jigsaw in this back-to-basics sequel, which sees him exact revenge on a group of medical scammers preying on the terminally ill.

Twenty years ago, Australian filmmakers/sickos Leigh Whannell and James Wan struck gold when they came up with the shockingly simple concept of Saw. Two men with chained feet, two hacksaws, one way out – a billion-dollar franchise was born. Eight sequels of varying quality and one dire spin-off later, the Saw films have become known for their elaborately engineered torture traps and increasingly convoluted timeline, as well as the presence of Billy the Puppet and Tobin Bell’s signature raspy voice. But for the tenth instalment in the franchise, Lionsgate are taking things back to basics, recruiting longtime Saw collaborator Kevin Greutert (who edited Saw, Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Saw V and Jigsaw, and directed Saw VI and Saw 3D) and bringing back the exceptionally competent civil engineer/deranged murderer John Kramer.

Since Kramer died at the end of Saw III, Saw X is set between the events of the original film and Saw II. After leaving poor old Adam to die in a grody bathroom, Kramer is attending a support group for people with terminal cancer. Given months to live, all hope seems lost, until he runs into a fellow support group member who miraculously appears to be cured. Henry (Michael Beach) tells Kramer he received pioneering treatment from The Pederson Group in Norway and gives him their contact information. Dr. Cecelia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund) explains to Kramer her father was a medical pioneer, but their team works in secrecy as they’re being targeted by big pharma. She invites Kramer to come to Mexico City for surgery that will cure his brain cancer, for the rather low price of $250k. For a genius, Kramer is rather willing to take a chance on this rather suspicious-sounding trip, but his desperation is endearingly human.

Unfortunately for Kramer, the treatment is bogus and he’s still going to die. More unfortunately for the Pederson Group, they’ve messed with the wrong mark. With some help from his old – actually, in this instance, relatively new – apprentice Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) Kramer exacts slow, brutal revenge on Cecelia and her accomplices Valentina (Paulette Hernandez), Mateo (Octavio Hinojosa) and Diego (Joshua Okamoto), teaching them the sanctity of life and why you never mess with an architect.

In setting Saw X within the context of the franchise’s existing timeline, writers Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg (also behind Jigsaw and Spiral) give themselves the task of integrating this new story within an already established world. Contrary to what some naysayers may think, there is considerable lore behind the Saw films, as well as a method to Kramer’s madness. His whole schtick is choosing victims that he feels do not appreciate the life they have been given, or abuse that life by praying on others. He’s previously taken to task loan sharks, drug dealers, crooked cops, unscrupulous property developers, and er, a slightly shady photographer, so the Pederson Group are an obvious fit for Jigsaw’s particular brand of violent retribution.

However, it’s genuinely fun to see how the Saw Lore is factored into this new film – we glimpse Kramer sketching a trap that will appear in a future film, and there’s a mid-scene cameo from one core villain. It’s novel to see Kramer towards the beginning of his serial killer journey, creating traps that feel a bit more rudimentary in their conception (though a couple are anticlimactic in the big picture of the sick stuff the franchise has pulled off previously).

It’s also novel to see secondary villain Amanda Young – a loved and loathed figure among Sawheads – in a more morally challenged position. As a relative newcomer to Kramer’s world, she questions what they’re doing, and is sympathetic to Gabriella, who took part in the medical scam to fund her drug addiction. While Goldfinger and Stolberg faltered with Jigsaw and Spiral by taking the story too far away from its heart (the character of Kramer) they course correct here, and Tobin Bell gives a sterling performance as the man himself, now a horror icon who sits among Michael Myers and Freddie Kruger in the Twisted Bastard Hall of Fame.

Saw X also embraces the humour which fans have long argued is key to the franchise’s longevity. Whether it’s knowing dialogue exchanges or just really great line delivery, the great peril is counter-balancing by moments of levity, and the violence is so cartoonishly gory it resembles a Loony Tunes episode more than 24 Hours in A&E. At two hours this is the longest Saw film to date, and features the most downtime between outbursts of extreme gore – the runtime is a little indulgent, which we feel acutely in the film’s third act where it is compounded by lacklustre trap reveals.

Of course this film isn’t going to convince any non-fans that the Saw films have merit, but in an age of moody intellectual horror where everything is a metaphor for trauma, it’s oddly refreshing to watch a film that revels in the gleefully simple. While Jigsaw prides himself on his engineering ability and the “tests” he subjects his enemies to, such twisted methodology can still be comically undercut by a shackled man shouting “You sick son a bitch!” at exactly the right moment. These films were built for communal viewing and group dissection – they are the Friday night multiplex schlock that keeps cinemas alive and horror studios in business. It’s encouraging that 10 films in, the Saw franchise has remembered what makes it so great: a potent blend of true horror, twisted imagination, comedic timing, and above all, the legend that is Tobin Bell. Whether or not they can write around Jigsaw’s canonical death to bring Bell back again is another matter…

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Published 28 Sep 2023

Tags: Kevin Greutert Saw Saw X


Spiral was a real low point, but Tobin Bell is back!


Guts, gore, and a few genuinely good gags.

In Retrospect.

Fizzles out a little in the third act, but a bloody fun time.

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