I stopped seeing and reviewing the Saw movies after the third one. Horror films are great. I see dozens every year. These are different. Their intense focus on showing people suffering made them depressing for me. We’re supposed to enjoy having our noses rubbed in the carnage and misery John Kramer unleashes. How is that entertainment? After giving the franchise three chances, it was time to bail. (I did see Spiral, but that’s a spinoff rather than a direct part of the series.) After a multi-year break, Kramer is back in the tenth installment, Saw X, and so am I. The time seemed right to give this thing another chance.
The movie starts off surprisingly strong. It conveniently dismisses the other sequels, establishing itself as a direct follow-up to the original and a precursor to Saw II. Kramer (Tobin Bell) has terminal brain cancer. This puts him in a pensive mood, causing a decrease in his desire to devise torture traps. After getting word of a private clinic in Mexico that’s doing groundbreaking work treating his disease, he puts up a lot of money to journey there. The woman in charge, Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund), promises a miracle cure.
Something happens that displeases Kramer in the process. The only way to handle it, as you can probably guess, is to build more traps and make people pay in the grisliest manner possible, with the help of assistant Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith). At this stage, the movie becomes a typically gross entry in the franchise. Any suggestion that Kramer might change his ways goes down the drain, along with the unexpected empathy you may be starting to feel for the guy.
Saw X certainly lives up – or, perhaps, lives down – to the reputation for wallowing in gore. An early scene finds a guy having vacuum tubes attached to his face so that his eyeballs can be sucked out when he fails to break his own fingers in 30 seconds. That’s arguably the least disgusting thing in the picture. The problem with the traps is that they’re all Chekov’s Guns. If a woman gets put into a trap that threatens to lop her head off, you can be sure this is exactly what will happen. Audiences come to these movies specifically to see characters die in Kramer’s contraptions. True suspense is never generated because it’s a foregone conclusion they will be maimed.
During the big finale, the film resorts to the cheapest, most inexcusable tactic imaginable – putting a child in grave danger. Seeing a kid placed into one of the traps is appalling. Horror movies do this when they don’t know how else to generate suspense. Adults going through nauseating mutilation is one thing. Children shouldn’t be used in such a manner. Saw X stooping to this level was honestly the most stomach-churning element for me.
A few positives do need to be acknowledged. Tobin Bell is very good, especially in the early scenes. The chill persona he gives Kramer is an effective contradiction to the heinousness of his actions. Shawnee Smith is good, as well. And, in fairness, director Kevin Greutert gives the death scenes an apt sense of dread. I can admire the filmmaking, even while finding the overall concept of the series distasteful. The allure of this brutal, nihilistic saga remains baffling, though.
out of four
Saw X is rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, language, and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.