The first Saw film was released in 2004, and nearly two decades later, the iconic franchise is on its landmark tenth entry. Recent installments, Jigsaw and Spiral, didn’t seem to connect with many audiences, so Saw studio Lionsgate looks to be hoping that the third time is the charm.
But does John Kramer’s new game, set between Saw I and Saw II, finally right the sinking ship?
Yes, it does, and it's a hard-hitting, bone-breaking sequel that fans will love.
The Iconic Jigsaw Is Back
While Tobin Bell’s killer has been a staple of the Saw movies, he is the star of this film in a way he’s never been before. This is his story, and Jigsaw is on camera more than any other entry—by a long shot.
Saw X sees John Kramer heading to a fresh new setting: Mexico (making this the first Saw movie to reveal its location). In chasing a miracle treatment for his cancer, he travels all the way to another country in hopes of getting cured.
Instead, he ends up duped by a massive scam. However, the joke’s on the con artists running the fraud, as they quickly become the targets for Jigsaw’s next twisted game.
While the film does many things well, it succeeds at telling a human story for John Kramer while utilizing his unique set of lethal ethics to make those he deems unworthy pay for their questionable choices.
The Film's Unique Structure
Right off the bat, the film works hard to tell audiences that this sequel is different than any before it.
Its first act contains very little of the franchise’s iconic death traps or gore-filled entertainment. Instead, it takes time to engage with Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw and really connect with where he finds himself, struggling with his cancer prognosis.
This is the first sign of the film’s distinctive pacing and structure, which doesn’t mimic any other installment. As the movie goes on, the narrative takes some unexpected twists and turns, which really add to what makes this outing so special.
The third act, in particular, shines due to the bold creative decisions made, and it offers some eye-catching unique situations that are a pleasure to watch play out.
This story also sees John Kramer more involved in his own sadistic games than audiences have ever seen. While his voice is usually there only on a recording of some type, this time, he watches over his victims and even directly interacts with them.
Things are bad when Jigsaw decides he wants to be there by his test subject’s side.
John Kramer’s Right-Hand Woman Is Back
Jigsaw isn’t alone in his new international game. Shawnee Smith’s Amanda Young is back as well. It’s been a long time since she has gotten the spotlight in the series, and it’s great to have her back.
Smith is fantastic in the role, and she does not miss a beat.
Saw X wonderfully explores the dynamic between her and John, placing her in unique new situations that are entertaining to watch play out. For those who have always wanted more of the killer duo together, then there’ll be plenty to enjoy here.
But what about Jigsaw’s many other helping hands throughout the series? Well, it’s best not to comment on them here—but just know going in that Saw X is Amanda’s time to shine alongside John, so don’t expect much else.
How Accessible Is This Tenth Entry?
Speaking of Jigsaw’s secret helpers, this new film sits as the tenth movie in a long-running, very connected story. Can anyone actually come into this movie blind?
For those completely new to the franchise, this entry is accessible to someone who hasn’t seen any previous films—provided one knows the general concept behind Jigsaw and his motives. While bits of context behind who Amanda is will be absent, viewers should get the gist of it.
On a similar note, longtime fans may be a bit bummed that there aren’t more connections to other entries, especially when it would have been easy and organic to work in a few more nods and references into the narrative.
But don’t let that get in the way of everything this movie has to offer for those very same fans. Saw X brings the franchise back to its roots, really making it feel like one of the original first few movies.
The Iconic Death Traps
What would a Saw movie be if it didn’t have plenty of traps? Thankfully, not only does this film deliver quite a few, but, for the most part, they’re all masterfully done.
The visual design of many of them harkens back to the earlier Saw films, and there’s a gritty industrial vibe integrated into the new set pieces. Additionally, there are plenty of thematic flourishes as well, which is where some of the best traps shine.
One trap in particular, which features bone marrow, is notably brutal—potentially placing amongst the franchise’s hardest-hitting.
Many of the new traps are far more simple in nature and not quite so theatric. Don’t expect Jigsaw’s giant spinning blender or Spiral’s big Samuel L. Jackson puppet.
There is only one notably weak trap, and that’s mainly because the film doesn’t actually let you see it play out, with it only there as a fun tease—think in a similar nature to Saw 3D’s lawnmower trap.
While most of the individual traps are great, the setup of Saw X’s big game features many of the victims all trapped in the same open area, with John and Amanda watching over them and interacting from time to time. This offers some extremely intriguing interactions and switches it up from the series’ usual set-ups, such as one person walking through a winding, complicated series of tests (as seen in Saw III, Saw VI, and Saw 3D).
A Slightly Flawed Conclusion
One of the film's only flaws comes down to its conclusion. Obviously, staying away from spoilers, the best way to sum it up is this entry is somehow the least conclusive Saw movie to date.
There’s nothing wrong with the logic in play as everything “wraps” up, and the film's story as a whole still holds strong. But the movie lacks nearly any conclusive note—it just kind of stops.
Normally, this is far from an issue with this franchise. But given how manic Lionsgate has been with the direction of the whole series, a direct sequel is far from a guarantee. It’s just as likely that there’s a proper follow-up to Saw X as there is for a Spiral 2, another prequel, or perhaps an entirely different angle altogether.
Longtime fans should be prepared to add plenty more unresolved plot threads to the series' already long list. There’s also a post-credits scene that feels more like an afterthought than anything else, even if it's still a fun bit.
Saw X Still Draws Blood
The Saw franchise has never been too friendly with a more general audience. In a similar vein, it’s also never been very popular on the Rotten Tomatoes meter—and it’s hard to say if that will change here.
Most of the things that turn people away from the franchise, such as its heavy gore and torture traps, remain in full force.
With that said, however, it’s worth pointing out how the story and performances are all notably stronger than many of the previous entries. The character work is also among some of the best, right up there alongside what is seen in Saw III and Saw VI.
And, of course, there’s Charlie Clouser’s incredible score to bring it all together.
Personally, as a lifelong Saw fan, I can confidently say that Saw X is a winner, and it sits among some of the best the franchise has offered to date. Hopefully, this new entry will provide a boost of energy to the franchise as a whole, and grease the gears of Lionsgate’s long running horror series.
Saw X hits theaters on September 29.