Review: ‘Saw X,’ starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund, Steven Brand, Renata Vaca and Michael Beach

September 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Tobin Bell in “Saw X” (Phtoto courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Saw X”

Directed by Kevin Greutert

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2005, partially in New Jersey and mostly in Mexico, the horror film “Saw X” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos and a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, vigilante serial killer John Kramer (also known as Jigsaw) goes to Mexico, to undergo radical medical treatment, which he finds out is a scam, and he gets revenge on the scammers. 

Culture Audience: “Saw X” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the very gory and violent “Saw” franchise, but “Saw X” has a better screenplay than the average “Saw” movie.

Paulette Hernandez in “Saw X” (Photo by Alexandro Bolaños Escamilla/Lionsgate)

“Saw X,” the 10th movie in the “Saw” horror film series, is the first movie in the series to be centered on the personal life of the mysterious and elusive vigilante serial killer with the nickname Jigsaw. It’s a little slow-moving in some areas, but this deep dive into John Kramer/Jigsaw’s cancer journey makes it one of the better entries in the “Saw” franchise. As is the case with every “Saw” movie, some of the bloody torture scenes can be unrealistic.

Directed by Kevin Greutert, “Saw X” (written by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg) has events that take place in between 2004’s “Saw” and 2005’s “Saw II.” The first “Saw” movie took place in New Jersey, where many subsequent “Saw” films also took place. “Saw” (still the best movie in the series) laid the groundwork of the horror concept of all the “Saw” movies: People who commit very immoral acts or serious crimes are held captive by Jigsaw in some kind of torture room. Each captured person is forced to complete a physical challenge in which the captured person has to cause severe self-injuries (such as dismemberment) in order to complete the challenge during a limited period of time—usually under 15 minutes.

Jigsaw leaves instructions on what to do on cassette tapes that are operated by remote control in the room or played by someone in the room. Those who survive are set free but must live with their physical injuries for the rest of their lives, as a reminder of their sins. Most of the captive people die by murder when their time runs out. A creepy, remote-controlled bike-riding doll named Billy, with an unsettling laugh, is part of the torture, like an evil court jester.

“Saw” revealed that Jigsaw was the mastermind behind these kidnappings, tortures and murders. In “Saw II,” it was revealed that Jigsaw/John Kramer has brain cancer, and his warped challenges were intended to make his victims have a newfound appreciation of life, if they survived. “Saw II” also revealed (mild spoiler alert) that one of Jigsaw’s former torture victims named Amanda Young (played by Shawnee Smith), who escaped from being killed in “Saw,” is now Jigsaw’s willing accomplice.

“Saw X” begins with John waking up in a medical chamber and then attending a support group with other cancer patients. During a visit to his doctor (played by David Alfano), John is told that he only has months to live. The doctor advises John to accept the diagnosis. John replies bitterly, “So, your advice to me is to die easy.”

As Jigsaw, John is still on a killing spree. He has captured and tortured a hospital custodian (played by Isan Beomhyun Lee), who has been stealing from patients. For his crimes, this thief has been strapped to a chair and is forced to wear goggles with long suction tubes attached to his eyes. You can imagine what happens next.

One of the people in John’s cancer support group is named Henry Kessler (played by Michael Beach), who tells John about how Henry had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which is now in remission, thanks to radical cancer treatment that has not been approved by the U.S. government. Henry explains that the treatment, invented by the now-deceased Dr. Finn Pederson (Donagh Gordon, seen in flashbacks or news footage), is a groundbreaking drug cocktail combined with surgery that “tells the cancer cells to switch off.”

Because Finn’s clinical trials were shut down by the U.S. government, he took his medical operations to a remote facility (which used to be a chemical factory) near Mexico City, Mexico. (“Saw X” was filmed on location in Mexico City.) Finn’s daughter Dr. Cecilia Pederson (played by Synnøve Macody Lund) is carrying on his legacy.

With nothing left to lose, John decides to go to Mexico City to undergo this high-priced medical treatment. Unfortunately, the trailer for “Saw” already reveals something that isn’t shown until about halfway through the movie: The entire treatment is a scam, so John and his accomplice Amanda capture and torture the scammers.

Besides corrupt doctor Cecilia, the other people who are in on the scam are Diego (played by Joshua Okamoto), who drives John to the facility; anesthesiologist Mateo (played by Octavio Hinojosa), who is posing as a medical doctor with the name Dr. Ramon Cortez; a nurse named Valentina (played by Paulette Hernández); hacienda hostess Gabriela (played by Renata Vaca); and Parker Sears (played by Steven Brand), another patient undergoing treatment. Gabriela is a pill-popping drug addict, while Valentina as a secret life as a sex worker.

In the lead-up to the biggest torture scenes, viewers will see a side of John/Jigsaw that has never really been shown before: completely vulnerable and desperately hoping that this cancer treatment will work. The slow-moving parts of “Saw X” will make some viewers wonder when more action will take place. However, these are mostly mediative-type scenes that show John contemplating his future, thereby giving viewers a window into his complicated soul.

While undergoing the treatment that he thinks will work, John meets and becomes acquainted with a 9-year-old boy named Carlos (played by Jorge Briseño), who plays a significant role in the latter half of “Saw X.” As the central character in “Saw,” Bell gives a solid performance that shows more depth than the peripheral but still menacing role that Jigsaw has in almost all the other “Saw” movies, where Jigsaw’s screen time is limited.

There are touches of wry comedy, such as a scene where John is drawing some torture methods on a sketch pad, as if he’s doing some harmless doodling. And in another scene, when Cecilia asks John what he does for a living, he says that helps people “making positive changes in their lives.” Christine says, “Like a life coach.” He replies, “Something like that.”

Some of the torture scenes are absolutely the bloodiest and most sickening ever seen in a “Saw” movie. One scene involves someone literally doing self-brain surgery, which is the most unrealistic scene in the film, since anyone who inflicts this type of self-torture would probably be rendered unconscious. Some of the dismemberment scenes also defy reality, since people in real life would go into medical shock and pass out long before what’s shown in the movie.

However, “Saw” movies are not meant to be completely realistic. An end-credits scene shows the return of a character who first made an appearance in 2006’s “Saw III,” while another character first seen in “Saw X” is revealed to have been part of the medical scam. The quality of “Saw” movies will vary, but people keep coming back for more of these “Saw” movies to see who will be tortured next and why and how. It’s not exactly a film franchise that preaches morality, but there’s a sense that a warped type of justice is being served for very morally dubious reasons.

Lionsgate will release “Saw X” in U.S. cinemas on September 29, 2023.

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