The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
The piece below was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
Undoubtedly dead before the end credits rolled on Saw III almost two decades ago, John “Jigsaw” Kramer (Tobin Bell), has categorically refused to remain dead, reemerging across and between subsequent sequels via flashbacks and a near-infinite supply of puzzle traps and micro-cassettes prepared for his apprentices before his demise. Given his centrality to the once-maligned horror series, Kramer should have remained in a perpetual state of dying from an inoperable brain tumor, his death postponed by each subsequent entry until the series either exhausted itself (i.e., a fanbase approaching zero) or the eventual heat death of the universe (whichever comes first).
Luckily for Saw’s fanbase, the producers behind the series learned that particular lesson long ago, finding creative ways to keep Kramer around, initially via apprentices or acolytes who continued his mission to fix the world one torture trap at a time and when that inevitably failed, finally resurrecting him back from the dead for Saw X, a sequel in number only that chronologically unfolds in the malleable period between the original Saw (2004) and the first sequel, Saw II (2005).
The Jigsaw-centered Saw X opens with Kramer once again receiving the no-good, horrible, terrible news about his inoperable brain tumor. Refusing to simply accept his inevitable fate, a desperate Kramer learns about an experimental cancer treatment involving a radical combination of surgery and an untested drug cocktail in Mexico, clears out his bank account, and heads South of the North American Border. It’s the kind of decision anyone in similar circumstances might make, but maybe not a practiced serial killer with a deep-seated cynicism about the human race.
By this point, the audience on the other side of the screen certainly knows better, but it takes a newly vulnerable Kramer the better part of an hour to discover he’s been conned by Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund), an amoral sociopath with a medical degree, a Nordic accent, and a full-scale front operation even the twice-impeached former occupant of the White House would admire for Pederson dedication to separating terminal cancer patients from their bank accounts and life savings. Everyone from the taxi cab driver to the housekeeper, nurses, and other “doctors” on staff seem to be part of the grift, all but foretelling their doom once Kramer uncovers the fraudulent nature of Pederson’s treatments.
That particular development, in turn, brings back franchise favorites like Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith), Billy the Puppet (scary once, non-scary now, but welcome either way), and a familiar pig mask into the fold. Amanda functions as a stand-in for Kramer, doing what he can’t do physically, finding and kidnapping the fraudsters behind the faux-clinic, and delivering them to a conveniently central location where Kramer, still dying from the aforementioned inoperable brain tumor, newly re-energized by his recent negative experiences, can test his latest traps and puzzles on a series of unwitting subjects with important life-or-death lessons to learn. Surviving means life, but usually life minus one or more important appendages or organs.
Those lessons, delivered with the usual fetishistic attention to realistic, gruesome detail, are, at least to a core group of Saw fans, the central reason for the series’s continuing existence. As a franchise, the Saw series has repeatedly challenged what can and shouldn’t be shown under the R-rating and Saw X is no different. Unquestionably filled with technical skill and nerve-shredding, stomach-turning, and bowel-loosening suspense, the set pieces in Saw X, individually and collectively, remain without equal among studio-made, English-language horror. Beginning with a typically cringe-inducing scenario involving suction tubes connected to a subject’s eyes and ending with a scenario involving a bizarrely accurate turn of phrase (i.e., “blood-boarding”), the set pieces qualify as a month’s worth of nightmare fuel.
Ultimately, reopening the series to in-universe stories featuring a not-quite-dead Jigsaw and Amanda, his favorite apprentice, counts as a brilliant, if obvious, move by the franchise’s producers. Theoretically, the series can continue to fill in the gaps between Saw and Saw II for the next 5-10 years or another 3-5 films in the series. Box-office returns, of course, will determine the future of the Saw series and whether Jigsaw and his obsession with Rube Goldberg-inspired death traps will return.
Saw X opens theatrically in North America on Friday, September 29th, via Lionsgate.