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Review: ‘Saw X’ Proves That the Long-Running and Ultra-Gory Horror Franchise isn’t Ready to Die Yet

September 27, 2023Ben MK

For the last two decades, the Saw movies have delivered some of the most gore-filled and iconic moments in modern horror. However, like any long-running franchise, the series has also bore witness to its own fair share of flops. From the relative heights of Saw and Spiral: From the Book of Saw to the extreme depths of Saw: The Final Chapter, moviegoers who have stuck it out with Jigsaw and his equally twisted apprentices and copycats over the years know that the quality of the franchise has been uneven at best. And now, with Saw X marking the return of the legendary Jigsaw himself, the only question is whether this latest installment represents the best or the worst that Saw has to offer.

Set between the events of Saw and Saw II, Saw X finds John Kramer (Tobin Bell) desperately searching for ways to prolong his life. Diagnosed with inoperable, stage four brain cancer, John has spent the past few months in and out of hospital, attending cancer support groups, and seeking advice from a variety of specialists. But now, with less than three months left to live and having exhausted all medical avenues, he's ready to try something a little more unorthodox. After hearing about an expensive new experimental procedure being offered by a Norwegian group called the Pederson Project, John signs up to become one of their next batch of patients and books a flight to Mexico, where he's taken to a secret location and introduced to the small team of doctors who will be performing his groundbreaking treatment. What happens a week later, however, is something not even John could foresee. Thinking himself completely freed of his disease, John makes an unannounced return visit to the Pederson facility, intending to thank their staff with a little token of his appreciation. But when he discovers instead that he's been duped by a bunch of grifters, John decides to have Jigsaw teach them a lesson.

Enlisting the help of his protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith), and Saw III's Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), John starts tracking down the individuals who conned him out of his hard-earned money and gave him false hope, beginning with taxi driver Diego (Joshua Okamoto), prostitute Valentina (Paulette Hernández), drug dealer Mateo (Octavio Hinojosa) and drug addict Gabriela (Renata Vaca). However, it's not until John has kidnapped the mastermind behind the whole scheme, Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund), that Jigsaw's game is ready to be played. Trapping their potential victims in an abandoned industrial facility, John and Amanda proceed with giving them the lowdown on the rules, which will afford each of them precisely one narrow opportunity to avoid a gruesome death by literally sacrificing parts of their bodies to various mechanical inventions of John's own demented design. But are all of these people deserving of Jigsaw's wrath, or has John gone too far this time? More importantly, is Amanda ready to carry on her master's work once he's dead and gone?

Directed by Saw veteran Kevin Greutert, what follows may well be the series' best and most disturbing entry, if not at least its best-acted and most visceral. Thanks to writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger's script, which wisely takes the time to build pathos for John and his situation, Bell's character feels more fleshed out and more like the antihero that the series has positioned him to be than ever before. And when you factor in his scenes with Smith's Amanda, which exist not only to give the violence some much-needed buffer, but to also serve as a means of addressing the moral quandary surrounding John's methods, it goes a long way in giving Saw X purpose, and helping this sequel feel less like the sort of splatterhouse torture porn some of its predecessors have become infamous for and more like a genuine character drama mixed with hardcore horror elements.

Make no mistake, the result isn't for the faint of heart, and even longtime gore afficionados might find themselves wincing at a fair few of its many hard-to-watch scenes. Yet, despite there being no real need to see Jigsaw return for what is presumably one last time, the franchise is all the more better for it. Suffice to say, this is undoubtedly the role that Bell will be remembered for, so it's only fitting that Saw X give him the sendoff that he deserves. Just don't count John Kramer out for good — because who knows when Jigsaw will be needed again.

Saw X releases September 29th, 2023 from Lionsgate Films. The film has an MPAA rating of R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, language and some drug use. Its runtime is 1 hr. 58 min.

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