The Saw series is one of the few horror franchises created entirely in the 21st century, comprising ten movies as of 2023. What began as a rather self-contained torture flick has transformed into a twisty play on morals and the legacy of Jigsaw, the mind behind the gnarly saw traps. Saw X, the latest addition to the franchise, takes audiences back in time to explore John Kramer (Tobin Bell) as he seeks a cure for his terminal brain cancer. When things don’t go according to plan he sets out to teach those who lied to him a lesson.
Director: Kevin Greutert
Release Date: September 29, 2023
Saw X jumps back to immediately after the events of the first Saw movie, which was released in 2004. John Kramer, aka Jigsaw, is seeking treatment for his terminal brain cancer. He’s told he only has months left, leaving him with limited time to carry out his goal of “helping” people by forcing them to choose life.
A member of Kramer’s cancer support group, Henry (Michael Beach), tells him about a medical team conducting illegal and experimental treatments for patients with terminal illnesses. Kramer gets in touch with Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund) who assures him that she can help him. He travels to Mexico, where he meets the team and does his treatment, including brain surgery.
After the surgery is successfully completed, Kramer attempts to thank Gabriela (Renata Vaca), a young woman with whom he bonded with and who also was saved by Cecilia. When he returns to the site of the medical team he finds the place abandoned and destroyed, leading to the discovery that he was scammed by con artists and they lied about his procedure. Furious, Kramer and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) capture the full medical team, including Gabriela, Cecilia, Mateo (Octavio Hinojosa), and Valentina (Paulette Hernández) and set out to teach them a lesson Jigsaw style. Let the games begin!
In true Saw fashion, each trap is unique and tests the limits to how much bodily harm one can inflict on oneself. Valentina is up first, and she must saw her leg off to collect enough bone marrow to end the trap. She fails and is decapitated. Mateo is next, and his trap was probably the worst of the whole series for me. He has to remove a section of his skull and remove enough brain matter to stop his trap from killing him. Like Valentina, he fails and is brutally killed.
While these traps are going on Parker Sears (Steven Brand) comes to the abandoned site to get revenge on Cecilia for lying to him about his treatment. Against Amanda’s judgment Kramer lets him stay to watch the traps unfold.
Gabriela is up next, and she must break her hand and foot to escape the burning rays of a radiation machine. She actually succeeds, which is a relief to both Amanda and Kramer who had affection for the young girl. But before Amanda can take her to the hospital Parker reveals that he is with Cecilia. After killing Gabriela, Cecilia and Parker flip the traps onto Kramer and Amanda. Little do they know that Kramer has planned for this and created a trap for the two of them. Once trapped, Cecilia kills Parker to save herself and is left trapped as Kramer and Amanda escape with Carlos (Jorge Briseño), the groundskeeper’s son.
Saw X is one of the most interesting additions to the Saw franchise, largely thanks to its focus on John Kramer’s medical journey and his moral code. Saw X is critical of institutions in place that take advantage of people in need, namely the American healthcare system and Big Pharma in general. At the tail end of a diagnosis that will lead to Kramer’s death, he searches for any way to treat his cancer. Finding a group of experimental scientists who promise they can help him gives hope to Kramer, along with countless other people who came before him. While this experimental treatment proves to be too good to be true, it reflects real issues that sick and disabled people face in America, where corporate greed values profit over life.
This leads to the most prominent shift in Kramer’s psyche. Previous Saw films featured a mix of victims, some of which wronged Kramer personally and others whose only “crime” was not living their lives to the fullest. In Saw X, Kramer is portrayed as a good person (depending on how good is defined) who was genuinely wronged by the healthcare system and then taken advantage of by a group of con artists. His actions, while extreme, are understandable. And his relationship with Amanda, Gabriela, and Carlos are closer to a friend and mentor than a man who designs torture traps to teach people lessons. Saw X wants audiences to side with Kramer, as the lack of continuing protagonist seen so often in horror franchises but not present in the Saw series leaves a gap for a moral character with which audiences relate to.
Visually, Saw X is a strong addition to the franchise. It upholds the same gross and gritty nature so common in the Saw films, and the traps and their resulting violence is upscaled and perhaps even gorier than usual. The eye trap, featured on the poster but not actually integral to the plot, and the brain trap were some of the grossest I’ve seen. My biggest criticism of Saw X would have to be its portrayal of Mexico. The stereotypical yellow filter that has been criticized for the way it perceives countries in other parts of the world (typically Middle Eastern or countries like Mexico) exotifies these places and is used to reinforce stereotypical notions about non-American or European places.
The last thing I’ll say about Saw X is that it has an epic post-credit scene. While the idea of the post-credit scene is a bit tired (thanks, MCU!), the one in Saw X reminds fans of the exciting thrills and twists that the series is so known for. I won’t spoil it because it’s so fun, but be prepared to see a familiar Saw face.