If James Wan, almost 20 years since his debut, is still churning out a brilliant horror film like Malignant, it’s no surprise that the director, who is also the creator of The Conjuring Universe and the co-creator of the Insidious franchise, would’ve started his career with a bang. His debut film, Saw, was instrumental in reviving the splatter film – a subgenre of horror films. While it’s easy to brush them under the carpet called “torture porn”, the pejorative label only worked in favour of the subgenre as it spawned several titles infamous for their gore and graphic violence. The Saw franchise has also grown multifold since the first film in 2004, but nine films later, it’s safe to say that the series’ reception has been on a downward spiral. Ironically, the ninth film was actually titled Spiral. But, it looks like the tenth time is the charm as Saw X marks a brilliant comeback for the franchise, thanks to its simple yet effective plot that fits in perfectly within the lore of the series.
Filmmaker Kevin Greutert, who previously helmed Saw VI (2009) and Saw 3D (2010), is back in the director’s seat. And instead of complicating the already convoluted and hard-to-keep-track-of plot, he neatly fits in the new film like a novel between other books on a shelf. Saw X serves as a direct sequel to Saw (2004) and a prequel to Saw II (2005). We see John Kramer (Tobin Bell) back in the flesh, before his death in Saw III (2006). The film goes back in its timeline, where the traps are simple, and the twists aren’t forced or convenient.
Those who follow the franchise know about John’s history of inoperable brain cancer. The very notion of death leads him to discover a new appreciation for life. Wanting those who waste their lives to understand its importance, he begins forcing people into deadly scenarios that he calls “tests” symbolic of what he perceives as a flaw in that person’s life. In Saw X, though, things get personal when a group of medical scammers promise him a miracle cure only to fool him and earn his wrath.
Saw X (English)
Director: Kevin Greutert
Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund, Steven Brand, Michael Beach
Runtime: 120 minutes
Storyline: A bunch of medical scammers extort money from a terminally ill old man without knowing who he really is
What follows might be a predictable slew of events — even John and his accomplice Amanda Young’s (Shawnee Smith) lives are in danger — but we know that they survive to appear in a few more sequels, so the danger they face isn’t really, for the lack of a better word, dangerous. Even then, the reason why Saw X is better than almost all its previous entries is how it sticks to the core ideas of the franchise that made it a success while also infusing it with a surprising level of heart that the series is seldom known for, rendered together in a manner that feels both fresh and like a homage.
While the other Saw films, barring the first three, gave us glimpses of John as flashbacks or video recordings, we have him take centre stage this time, and Bell essays his career-defining character flawlessly. Unlike the previous films that explore his personal life and family through various means, we get a first-hand account of his humane side. Saw X’s plot might be shallow, but it actually makes you root for the gory death of the scammers, and that’s diametrically opposite to how fans of the franchise once rooted for the victims to escape from the creative yet terrifying traps.
Saw X also gets its fan service right; the microcassettes are back and so is the pig mask. Even Billy the puppet, an icon of the Jigsaw character, makes its presence felt, and while you’re at it, stick around for the franchise’s first post-credit scene. Speaking of fan service, all these are mere toppings for those who love this franchise. What they truly expect is an array of gruesome deaths in the most ingenious fashion with traps that the original reverse beartrap should be proud of, and Saw X doesn’t falter on that aspect either.
Of course, the intensity is dialled down compared to the previous films, and for some reason, the film puts on the problematic Mexico filter the moment John lands in the country. Even the first half might feel lengthy given that there’s not much “action” albeit an imaginary sequence. But that doesn’t take away the fact that Saw X is a splendid comeback for the franchise that makes one of the horror film world’s famous villains/anti-heroes a true blue protagonist. While the future of the franchise isn’t clear, Saw X would be a brilliant send-off to one of the best horror franchises of all time and even if not, as a character points out, this satisfying resurgence would not be a “retribution but just a reawakening”.
Saw X is currently running in theatres