Amongst film discourse, it’s somewhat of a running gag that successful, gory, low budget horror movies are nearly always turned into massive cash cow franchises. This is regardless of how convoluted and unnecessarily stretched out their stories become. At the end of the day, if you throw the name Halloween, Friday the 13th, or A Nightmare on Elm Street into theaters, their respective studios will make a boatload of money. And when it comes to the golden goose of horror, Saw most certainly makes that list. Despite the original film only being 18 years old, the franchise as a whole has grossed more than a billion dollars overall. This new film shows no sign of changing that, as it has already grossed 25 million dollars just a few weeks after releasing. What has seemingly changed with this new sequel, stirring up lots of interesting conversation, is the actual quality of the films. Saw X currently sits at an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.2 out of 10 on IMDb. Shocking considering that no other Saw film has a score so high on either Rotten Tomatoes and only the original Saw film holds a higher score on IMDb. So what’s really happening here? Did Saw finally strike gold a whopping 10 films in or is there some sort of overhype?
Saw X follows John Kramer, the infamous Jigsaw killer who for the first time in the franchise is set as the protagonist. Set between the 1st and 2nd film, John learns of a miracle procedure he can undergo that can cure his terminal brain cancer, which is currently leaving him with mere months left to live. Despite this procedure being supposedly banned by the FDA and requiring John to travel to Mexico City just to get it, he does so anyway, eager to be healed. John goes through with the procedure, and afterwards has a brand new outlook on life. There’s a brief moment where John puts the Jigsaw business away, now that he’s cancer free and doesn’t have an impending death clock. Like I said, it’s brief, as John soon realizes he was tricked and never truly received any medical treatment at all. The whole procedure was a scam meant to lure in desperate cancer patients and rob them. Unfortunately for the scammers, they scammed the Jigsaw killer, as he continues his killing and targets them.
From there the movie feels almost like every other Saw film. Excessive gore, bad acting, and horrible dialogue galore. Tobin Bell as always is a highlight for the film. He plays a disturbed and slightly sympathetic character, a shift from his role in other Saw films. You almost feel for the guy, partially because you’re tied to him for most of the film and partially because you witness him briefly put the most dislikeable thing about him (the whole serial killer thing) away. Bell is also very good at making John seem as though he actually believes his evil philosophy. I’m always convinced through his performance that the character of John Kramer truly thinks he is helping people. Shawnee Smith also returns in this film to reprise her role as Amanda Young from the original 3 films. While her performance wasn’t particularly Oscar-worthy in the previous films, her line delivery and acting here feels exponentially shallow. As for the victims in John’s twisted games, the con artist “surgeons” who swindled John out of money and hope, are as forgettable as any other slasher movie side character. They exist basically to be killed, with very little character being brought to them besides a scene or two of them outside of their surgeon scam living lives in poverty.
But the Saw franchise doesn’t exactly rake in millions of dollars for its characters. Instead, it is the gore that brings most people into the theater. Saw’s marketing strategy has famously been to release around Halloween, giving many people an extremely gory film to turn their brains off and watch for the Halloween season and easily turning a profit that way. Saw X is no different, while thankfully this time around there appeared to be no computer effects and just practical work, the film is simply a gore fest for a large sum of its runtime.
Typically, a gore fest is quite literally all that Saw has to offer. This time however, what I assume to be the main reason for such high reviews, there is much more of a focus on the narrative than just gross visuals. The film begins with a simple and honestly interesting title card and stylized introduction into John Kramer at this point in his life, all with somewhat interesting cinematography and editing. However, this stylization ends quickly, as Saw X slowly becomes as obnoxious as all of the other films, frustrating me that the idea of a uniquely made Saw movie was teased and not delivered. While I suppose for many this beginning was enough, an entire movie of intentional camera work and editing would have sold me like the rest.
Despite its good critical reception, a majority of Saw X did not work for me. While it was still an enjoyable watch for me, that’s only because I’ve followed the series up to this point in all of its stupidity. For most who are looking for an actually great modern horror movie in an era where we have such fantastic new horror movies being released by studios like Neon and A24, you can skip Saw X. If you’re looking to watch something that starts with lots of promise and divulges into stupidity and “turn your brain off” style content, I guess you’re in luck this Halloween season.