By Josh Reilly B. & George Bate
In recent years, various horror franchises have kicked off once again after a period of (relative) inactivity. Halloween is the biggest example of this, as Blumhouse made and released a trilogy of sequels to the iconic original film from 1978. The Saw franchise id the latest to get this kind of treatment with Sax X, out in theaters this weekend.
Saw X is unique in that it exists as a sequel and a prequel. The story once again follows John Kramer, who died in Saw III, and is a follow up to the original film (the creators of the new movie have described X as the “real” Saw II). Kramer, firmly the main character in this story, travels to Mexico for a form of experimental treatment on his seemingly incurable cancer. He discovers that the medical team in charge of his treatment aren’t what they seem, and are actually prime candidates for his violent, morality-infused games.
Saw X succeeds far more than some of the more recent installments in the franchise, such as Jigsaw or Spiral. The film takes its time to get to the horror and classic setup that fans of the series have come to expect, with a group of people trapped in a room together who are ordered to do make quick and brutal decisions in order to save their lives. That’s the selling point of all Saw films, but what makes this one work is the buildup beforehand. With Kramer as the true main character, the focus is no longer on the victims but, rather, the man who puts them in those precarious positions in the first place. Audiences are able to get inside the mind of Kramer far more than in previous installments, and get closer to him as a character than any other in this long running franchise. His morality and psyche are on full display here, especially towards the beginning of the film, which adds to the payoff of seeing the horror truly begin.
Tobin Bell returns to play Kramer in this film, and gives the best performance of his entire career to date. Bell is arguably best known for the Saw franchise, and he’s truly peaked here; there’s a vulnerability to Kramer in this film that hasn’t been seen before. In past movies, such as the first Saw and second Saw, Kramer is portrayed almost exclusively as a severely ill man, both physically and mentally, and one who has chosen to condemn others to the torture and brutality that audiences seem to love from the franchise. In Saw X, however, Kramer is remarkably more than just a horror movie villain. He’s more sympathetic, calm, and for lack of a better term, ‘normal’ than before. There were always elements of Kramer’s character that audiences were meant to sympathize with, and his reasoning behind the games plays into the moral questions that the best stories in the franchise always play off of. But here in Saw X, the decision to turn Kramer into more of a traditional ‘hero’ is exactly why the film works.
Returning alongside Bell is Shawnee Smith as Amanda Young, the apprentice of Kramer’s. Amanda’s return is another welcome one for the franchise, and yet another reminder of how Smith’s character was positioned to be the long term successor for the series. However, her untimely and oddly placed death in Saw III altered those plans drastically, but the new film does give a glimpse into what could have been a better creative direction for the franchise.
With the story lined up well, the question of whether or not Saw X succeeds depends largely on the horror. When the scares come, and it does take a bit of time for them to arrive, they are there in classic Saw fashion. The complex and intricate traps that Kramer has set up for his victims are memorable and take the horror of the franchise to new heights, and it helps greatly that the film took its time to show the audiences why these characters are evil, thus providing some extra satisfaction throughout.
Saw X does stumble a little bit towards the end of the story, with an attempted twist coming off as less compelling and interesting than perhaps the filmmakers hoped for it to be. It’s not enough to derail the film, and the story ultimately concludes in a satisfying manner, but it does feel as if the decision to include a twist like that was truly necessary.
Saw X is a fine return to form for the classic horror franchise, summoning all of the elements that made previous installments so memorable while adding unexpected depth to the proceedings. John Kramer and Amanda Young are back as the fan favorite characters Jigsaw and Amanda, and their respective returns feel like the series has finally gone back to its roots and most compelling of characters. Despite some mishaps with the attempted twist towards the end, the horror is eye-opening and chilling, proving that Saw X will give fans exactly what they want this Halloween season.