Saw X review: Drawn out in-between-quel has no sense of mystery
The 10th entry in the horror franchise puts Tobin Bell's Jigsaw back at centre stage – but has little to offer besides gory fan service.
Duly, the disappointing box office returns for that ninth entry in the horror series provoked the inevitable response for the 10th outing in the series.
Neither on-screen death nor franchise overkill can keep a horror icon down, so Kramer returns for Saw VI and Saw 3D director Kevin Greutert’s Saw X, set in the saga’s timeline between Saw and Saw II.
The calm pleasures of Bell’s unnervingly purposeful performance aside, that sense of inevitability is the main problem with this run around John’s old block of wicked games, pseudo-moral tests and medieval death traps.
After Saw sequels, prequels, near-parodies and spin-offs, the main sell here is a back-to-basics approach. Greutert delivers all the gushing gore and series Easter eggs fans might expect, with a caveat. He’s so busy pleasing the fanbase that he neglects another vital piece of the franchise puzzle: the sense of mystery that helped lift the best Saws above ‘torture porn’ clichés.
Saw X starts with a declaration of intent, closing in on Kramer’s face as he reckons with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. He expects to live for a year, at best, until a seemingly recovered cancer patient informs Kramer of a radical new cure.
Signed up, Kramer visits a secret location in Mexico and pays for treatment. But when he realises he has been scammed, he contacts his protégé Amanda (Shawnee Smith) and plots revenge – which, in his troubling thinking, involves devising elaborate torments and tests to "reawaken" his victims to an awareness of life’s value.
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With Kramer situated as the protagonist, Saw X partly plays into the emotional impact of his confrontation with mortality. Conversely, the opening stretch also peddles a winning line in gallows humour. "I," says Kramer, pausing for comic-dramatic effect as faux-surgeon Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund) asks what he does, "have a few hobbies."
A look at his grim hospital room sketchbook amuses, too, and there’s a playful pay-off to his gratuitous torment of a thieving orderly that’s too cheeky to spoil.
Once he and Amanda capture the grifters who sold him false hope, however, there’s precious little to spoil. Since we know where Amanda ends up in Saw II, we also know that her fleeting clashes with Kramer over the punishment of drug user and scammer Gabriela (Renata Vaca) are going nowhere.
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As Kramer chains up these cheats in a warehouse and subjects them to cruel "tests", Greutert instead focuses on amplifying the gross-out factor. Living up to the title, Saw X proves the series can still leave you craving a cold shower afterwards.
Ticking clocks boost the tension as characters hack into limbs to prevent agonising death. One character’s self-administered brain surgery beats the scalping scene in Ridley Scott’s Hannibal for schlock value. Another poor unfortunate’s indignities extend beyond death when their intestines are unravelled and used as rope.
The problem is that there’s no mystery here to tug you in, much less anything to surprise. A nasty late development gives Greutert a chance to unleash gallons of gushing blood, but the best Saw films offered more fiendish puzzle-box pleasures than a crude blood-boarding.
With X being the longest Saw film, the result feels drawn out rather than developed, and then drawn out further still as the revelation of a key character’s inner moral vacuum results in some grim 'evil villain' acting.
When Kramer says, "Our work’s not going to end," he could be speaking for any horror icon stretched beyond their breaking point, with little new to offer besides gore-spewing fan service.
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