The Saw universe is back with John Kramer (Tobin Bell) a.k.a. Jigsaw taking his painful lessons to Mexico. Saw X doesn’t have the mind-blowing shock of the original film. But, with inventive deaths that will make viewers’ faces and extremities cringe in horror, it’s a great—even occasionally funny—addition to the franchise.
Directed by Kevin Greutert and written by Josh Stohlberg and Pete Goldfinger, Saw X packs in gore with a more personal story surrounding Kramer. Given Saw‘s long history of twists, seeing them forgo this in lieu of a deeper emotional investment is refreshing. For all his technological trap savvy, Kramer is still an old man dying from a cancerous brain tumor. He even falls victim to the same scams that others in his generation do.
Saw X captures the susceptibility and allure of scams, not to mention how disarming con artists appear because they tell people what they need to hear. John’s hope rises after Henry Kessler (Michael Beach), a fellow cancer support group member, discloses his special treatment and subsequent freedom from cancer. Another conversation with Dr. Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund) further feeds into John’s curiosity. With the perfect blend of surety and sympathy, Dr. Pederson convinces John to come to Mexico for the surgery. This is a flashing red flag with resounding alarms for most people. If there isn’t a whole level of hell for folks who swindle the dying, there should be.
It’s easy to sympathize with Kramer despite his history of torture. Saw X humanizes John Kramer moreso than previous Saw films. He befriends a child, Carlos (Jorge Briseño), helping fix the wheel of his bike and cares about the soft-spoken woman, Gabriela (Renata Vaca), who sees to his comfort while he awaits surgery. It’s that affection that makes him return to the location with a wine bottle that is supposedly for luck, and nothing is there except clues to the scam. Tobin Bell somehow makes Jigsaw likable, infusing the character with a frailty and vulnerability that screams, “Don’t let me down.”
But, of course, that’s what transpires. And hell hath no fury like a Jigsaw scammed. The film shifts back to the franchise’s standard of setting horrific traps and everyone is on the list. This is where Saw X‘s supporting cast shines. In addition to Lund and Vaca, Paulette Hernandez as nurse Valentina, Joshua Okamoto as Diego the driver, Octavio Hinojosa as anesthesiologist Mateo, and Steven Brand as Parker Sears along with other cured patients played their role to perfection, delivering award-winning and legitimate performances.
The traps don’t have the jaw-dropping shock of previous Saw films. However, how they are often tailor-made for the individual’s transgressions deserves a tip of the hat. The rigged traps play expertly off of the fake operation scam with hospital themes. There is ample body horror, blood, and viscera—though this part causes shocked laughter. Like the other films, Saw X makes viewers question the lengths they’ll go to survive. Spatters of laughter ease some tension, but throughout Kramer’s trip, the viewer’s senses register at varying DEFCON levels.
While the film certainly excel at gore, the gentler aspect of Kramer adds dimension and presents a stark contrast to the later bloodshed. Despite his failing health, he reminds the bad people and audiences why he is still the Jigsaw GOAT. Tobin Bell immortalized this character, cementing him as one of the most iconic villains of the last twenty years. Inventive and shady in his punishment, the traps reflect his wit and show that a sharp mind remains in Saw X, one you cross at your peril.
Saw X hits theaters on September 29.