Halloween is just about over for 2023, but there’s still plenty to be anxious about as we plunge further into winter darkness; scary movies aren’t just for your traditional Samhain celebrations, but for all the year round. The tenth instalment of the venerable Saw franchise, which started nearly twenty years ago, was cannily released in cinemas perfectly timed to be streamable on Halloween night and beyond; it’s clear that studios are hoping to reduce the theatrical window to develop the almost immediate home release. That worked for Five Nights at Freddy’s, viewable at home the same night it came out in the US, and Saw X similarly seems to thrive on the big screen despite a rapid home distribution.
I’m something of a lightweight when it comes to torture and mutilation, but have somehow been lured back into the Saw franchise after getting a medical exemption after seeing the first one; once you’ve got your head around one of the Jigsaw killer’s deadly escape rooms, you’ve seen them all, right? But Chris Rock’s Spiral: From the Book of Saw, the least popular of the sequence to date, was a rather vicious little policier, and with Saw X getting the best reviews of any of the gruesome series, I thought I’d strap myself in. As it happens, advanced study is not required for this entry-level movie, which is a direct sequel to the first film. John Kramer ( well played by Tobin Bell) is a ‘civil engineer and an architect’ but also a creator of elaborate Heath Robinson/Rube Goldberg devices which he uses to torture those who cross him, or ‘help people overcome inner obstacles,’ as one character puts it. Less of a life coach than a death enthusiast, Kramer has had a CT scan which reveals his own advanced brain cancer, and travels to Mexico City in search of a cure, only to find that he’s chucked $250 large into an elaborate scam that takes advantage of the desperation of dying people desperate for a cure.
No spoilers are required to reflect that John Kramer is not pleased about this turn of events, and exacts a predictably painstaking revenge; his willing assistant Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) kidnaps those responsible and drags them back to an abandoned warehouse where Kramer does his sharply-conceived business. ‘Everyone deserves a chance an opportunity to redeem themselves,’ says Kramer, and he’s right if redeeming yourself means hacking your leg off with a garrotting wire, doing brain surgery on yourself or having your eyeballs instantly removed with a vacuum cleaner in the opening kill. Eye-popping in every sense, that first sequence is revealed to be a product of Kramer’s active imagination, but after 30 minutes of sympathetically capturing Kramer’s plight, the remaining 90 is largely concerned with Kramer’s on-going game-show of sadistic cruelty towards the inadvertent ‘players’ and his old school eye-for-an-eye Crypt-Keeper morality.
Saw X has performed as the series usually does, engaging stoic audience members keen to test their stamina against some very tense and bloody funfair-ride shenanigans and easily making its money back ten times over. Once you get your head around the extreme nastiness of the contraptions, Kramer’s refusal to ‘die easy’ is actually quite sympathetic, and a scene of ‘blood-boarding’ a child (you really don’t want to know) proves unexpectedly emotionally resonant. The Saw franchise looks unstoppable, and the well-organised, razor-sharp Saw X shows why; ‘The Cliff notes version is that it’s going to cut your head off,’ is how one character describes the next gruesome contraption to be wheeled into place, and Kevin Greutert’s movie similarly drills down on the nasty-ass cruelty that the Saw sequence seems to be all about.
SAW X is available to buy and rent from 30 October 2023 from Lionsgate UK. Thanks for access.