By: Jeff Ching
The Saw series made it all the way to ten – wow. Before being notified about the screening, I had no idea the series had this many movies. I stopped after Saw III, I kind of lost track of the timeline after, maybe, Saw IV. Saw III was funny to poke fun at, with how elaborate “Jigsaw’s” plan was and how he must have a 300 IQ and put Nostradamus to shame for anticipating absolutely every single move that everybody makes. After 15 years of abandoning this series, did Saw X give me something unexpected? Well…I enjoyed it more than I expected. At times I laughed very hard, though I don’t think a lot of the comedy was intentional.
No matter how much you like or dislike the Saw series, there’s no denying how good of a character actor Tobin Bell is. No other actor could play “Jigsaw” (aka. John Kramer) better than him. What a voice! Every time he speaks, the audience hangs on to every word. The difference to Saw X compared to other sequels (I’ve seen) is that Bell sticks around for the entirety of the movie. “Jigsaw’s” the protagonist, and the movie makes it clear that everyone targeted by him are the biggest scumbags and they deserve their decapitations, loss of their limbs, etc. (aka. whatever super creative torture techniques “Jigsaw” can think of). Some of these kills (notably one that reminded me of Machete) are unintentionally hilarious. And speaking of unintentional comedy…that ending! It’s almost Disney-like. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud with a knee slap at the audacity. It’s amusing, especially after what the characters had just endured.
Saw X takes place between Saw (2004) and Saw II. John Kramer has a brain tumour, and doctors are giving him merely months to live. He happens to run into someone from his cancer group therapy who had stage 4 cancer and is now in complete remission. He tells Kramer about a very expensive doctor with an experimental surgery and drugs that would take years to get approved by the FDA. Kramer contacts the doctor and goes out to Mexico to receive the treatment and, wow, the doctor and her team are just such nice people. The friendships that Kramer strikes up with them feel so wholesome. The surgery is performed and it’s a success…at least that’s what he thinks. John’s world is shattered when he tries to bring a bottle of wine to the doctor. The building where his surgery was performed has been abandoned, with scattered evidence of the scam that they pulled off. He takes off his head cast to see no incision scar on his head at all – John’s been conned! The surgery scene seemed awfully convincing, so to the scammers’ credit, they’re the best pretend surgeons ever. Hell, they fooled “Jigsaw” of all people, and he’s got a 300 IQ! Soon enough, the scam artists learn of their bad luck of pissing off a killer with a master’s degree in civil engineering as “Jigsaw” tracks every one of these scammers down and drops them in their own escape room.
From this point on, the latest instalment in this violent series is very much “vintage Saw” with the aforementioned change of Jigsaw as, undoubtably, the story’s protagonist. If the audience is caught saying, “Hey! What these people did may have been wrong, but they don’t deserve to lose their limbs or little pieces of their brain”, the director replies with, “Oh, you just wait until we crank up the cartoonish scumminess of some of these characters to 11.”
As I said, Bell is great. The half hour stretch where no killing happens is easily my favourite part of the movie because Bell is just a joy to watch in every dialogue-driven scene. I almost wanted the movie to change course and turn into a drama about Kramer’s fight with cancer. But, I suppose Saw fans wouldn’t be happy with that outcome.
“Torture porn”, a horror sub-genre we can “thank” this series for, is just not for me. However, Saw X is a more bearable submission of this sub-genre. It’s still fun seeing how creative “Jigsaw” is with his traps. His unrealistic knack for predicting, along with flashbacks of him setting everything up is always amusing. I won’t give away a key plot point that happens 3/4 in, but it definitely makes the rest of the movie more entertaining and intense – despite the absurdity of it all.
I know it seems like I’m taking the piss out Saw X but, one way or another, I had a good time watching this mid-series sequel. I’m not clamouring for another Saw, but I’m glad I saw this one.
*** (out of 5)
Read more of Jeff Ching’s thoughts on film at The Ching of Comedy’s blog.