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After 17 years, Saw fans finally get to see the living Mr. Jigsaw himself back on the big screen! Saw X is a gut-wrenching addition to the franchise, adding more character depth to John Kramer (Tobin Bell) than we ever expected.

Kramer officially died back in Saw III, but we’ve seen glimpses of the mastermind killer in flashbacks throughout the sequels. Saw X takes place between the Saw and Saw II, giving us another opportunity to see John Kramer at work with his own methodical hands.

For those unaware, Saw is a horror film franchise full of torture and brutality. We at The Escape Effect want to assure you that our escape room games do not reflect any of the disturbing, twisted, and gory elements of these movies.

This article contains spoilers for Saw X

What Is Saw X?

While the 10th movie in the franchise, Saw X is an interquel, set between the first two films. The franchise is no stranger to non-linear story telling, and I’m happy we finally get to see the big bad back in action.

Here we watch John Kramer realize the aggressiveness of his brain cancer. But as fans of the series are aware, he’s not one to take life for granted. He discovers a treatment option that could potentially cure him, though it is surrounded with secrecy and sketchiness. Nevertheless, he heads down to Mexico and proceeds with the operation.

Everything seems to go well at first, but John doesn’t take long to realize the truth. He’s been conned, along with many other terminal patients. The surgery is a scam, and the small group led by Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund) leaves people full of hope and with emptied wallets at death’s door.

But now they’ve messed with the wrong serial killer.

John calls in aid from his followers, and Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) arrives to help set up a new, terrifying game. One by one, the con artists are kidnapped and brought to a warehouse and bound to elaborate devices designed for their misery, and tonight, Jigsaw is the Chief of surgery.

Story & Character

This is the most pathos-filled film in the franchise to date. No one expected to walk into a Saw film and feel sadness and empathy for one of the most renowned horror villains of all time, but here we are! The protagonist is John Kramer himself, and it’s a bold choice that pays off. Note that I saw John Kramer – this story is about him more than it is about Jigsaw.

The first half of the movie is a slow burn as we follow John’ Kramer’s journey to try and cure his cancer. We watch him feel hope and happiness. At this point, it’s even possible he’s considering throwing away the Jigsaw persona. But then we get to witness that same hope get ripped out of him like some invisible trap.

Tobin Bell absolutely delivers on these emotional beats! This sequel is a large step away from the mindless gore-fests of later films, and leaves me wondering why they’ve never utilized the actor’s dynamic range before. Some could argue that the pacing is too slow, but I say it all serves to make the bloody latter half of the movie even more impactful.

I’ll get more into the traps momentarily, but they’re all designed to mimic the victim’s sleight against John in the first half. Some of the series’ best games also follow this pattern, but being able to watch in real time how a players actions transfer to their trap adds more weight and further emphasizes Jigsaw’s dramatic ingenuity. This of course is also the only praise I can give Saw 3D, the 7th and worst-reviewed of the lot.

Shawnee Smith has not forgotten Amanda’s character after all this time. Her performance in this movie hints at the fate of her and John’s relationship in proceeding stories, Saw II and Saw III. We watch her relate to and try to help victim Gabriela (Renata Vaca), a young woman that also struggles with addiction. When Gabriela dies, we really feel Amanda’s grief.

Synnøve Macody Lund as Cecilia Pederson is haunting. Pederson is a character so diabolical that I did nothing but cheer for our insane serial killer to give her a taste of her own medicine. She’s ruthless, and a fantastic foil for John Kramer to face off against.

The rest of the victims are less developed, but their actors all portrayed them amazingly. I really felt like I was watching Valentina (Paulette Hernandez) saw off her own leg! Which, uh . . . hoo boy. No one ever said a Saw film couldn’t be both emotionally satisfying and disturbingly gory.

A close up of Matteo trapped in his brain surgery game.

Traps

As per Jigsaw’s usual M.O. the traps in Saw X are made with the victim’s “crime” in mind. Mateo (Octavio Hinojosa) uses a video tape of a brain surgery to pretend to actually be operating on John. So then he has to remove a part of his own brain to get the key to his trap.

That’s all well and good, but I do have a critique. The Saw franchise has been guilty of this plenty of times before, but still the timers are terribly short for what Jigsaw asks of the players. Three minutes to cut out a chunk of your own brain and let it dissolve in a dish so that a key is freed? Three minutes to saw down your leg so you can suck a decent amount of bone marrow out to stop a decapitating contraption? Those clocks seem somewhat ridiculous compared to the first Saw’s main game that gave the two players hours to escape from.

One can argue that those that died in Saw X hesitated too much, since they lost only by seconds. Still, it feels a bit silly. I can at least chalk it up to the fact that John is, in the end, still a psychopathic killer and this was a personal game where revenge influenced him heavily. Cecelia Pederson even calls him out, attesting to the fact that he’s not actually noble in what he does at all.

The twist on Cecelia’s trap in the end was a lot of fun. While it’s hard to believe her partner would show up and the two would act exactly as John planned, the idea of him understanding the human mind so well that he can predict people is a trend in the franchise, so I had an easy time suspending my disbelief.

Plus watching Cecelia accidentally start the timer on her own trap was too satisfying to complain about. She was the smile that gave John Kramer hope, made him think he would be okay. And so, when she finally gained control back from the game and was about to leave with her money and a grin on her face, that joy was all gone when the door closed and that timer started.

My biggest gripe trap-wise actually has to do with the first one. That’s right, the eye vacuum meant for the thieving custodian (Isan Beomhyun Lee). Honestly the trap itself is cool, though it’s easy to beat by just turning the dial up quickly and breaking your fingers all at once. My issue is that it’s all in John’s head while he watches the young man steal from a hospital patient’s drawers.

Yep. This trap is literally the promotional poster for the film, and yet it doesn’t even actually happen! The character isn’t important, and the scene comes and goes in an instant. I wanted more!

A promo image for Saw X featuring a man screaming during the eye vacuum trap.
A shot of John Kramer and Amanda Young from Saw X, with John putting his hand on Amanda's shoulder.

Saw X: Final Thoughts

This film is more heart than guts (there’s plenty of both, don’t worry), and that’s a good thing! I think this is a step in the right direction for the Saw films, if they plan on continuing the series.

The cinematography was fun and dynamic during traps. I will say this film has the most egregious use of yellow filtering for outdoor shots I’ve seen in a while – because how else is the audience supposed to know that it takes place in Mexico?

Overall Saw X made me wince both in pain for the victims, and in pity for the killer. What a fresh take on the historical franchise for horror and puzzle enjoyers alike! I’ll definitely remember Saw X for years to come.

Hand-Curated

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