“You just had to come back, didn’t you?” So says one poor soul to John Kramer (Tobin Bell) – aka Jigsaw. Yes, the vengeful brain cancer victim has returned, armed with his usual battery of fiendish traps and his unassailable sense of righteous indignation. Only this time we’re rewinding to the early days of the Saw franchise. Saw X takes place between the original movie and Saw II, when John still had a smidgen of decency left in him. Well, sort of. When he sees one lad contemplate stealing a hospital patient’s valuables, he still fantasises about sucking the guys eyeballs out with a particularly nasty contraption.
“I help people overcome their obstacles,” he says later, raising the grimmest laugh of the entire film. But things get real when he meets a fellow attendee of a cancer support group, who has gone into remission thanks to a cocktail of drugs and surgery. John applies and is soon on his way to Mexico, where he meets the doctor (played by Synnøve Macody Lund), and the well-intentioned carers around her. Except that things don’t quite work out the way he’d hoped, and he’s soon taking his revenge on everyone involved.
Yep, the game can truly begin when John assembles all concerned in a grim-looking warehouse for some bloody (and we mean bloody) moral dilemmas. The fun of the Saw movies has always been the inventiveness of the booby traps and Saw X doesn’t disappoint. Leg amputation, self-appointed brain surgery and radiation therapy all get a look in, in some of the nastiest scenes yet, as the perpetrators are served up a delicious form of justice. “This is not retribution,” Kramer intones. “It’s a re-awakening.”
Directed by Kevin Greutert, who previously edited the first five Saw movies before directing Saw VI and Saw 3D, Saw X is nothing revolutionary. You know what you’re going to get, and this delivers on that squeamish promise: intense, viscous and violent horror by the bucketload. The mythology is so extensive now that there’s also room for a couple of surprise appearances that will certainly have fans cheering from their seats. Is it scary enough? Maybe not, but it’s certainly fast-paced. The 118 minute runtime feels half that, given its absorbing nature.
Bell is as low-key brilliant as he always is – that ominous, gravelly voice gets a great workout, while his withered, grey-haired appearance lends the film real gravitas. And yes, there is enough Saw iconography here to keep the bloodthirsty on-side. The old-school mini-cassette recorder with “Play me” scrawled on it and, of course, Billy, the weird-looking clown puppet on a bicycle make welcome appearances. Also impressive is Norwegian actress Lund (Headhunters) who for a while looks like she might prove a worthy adversary for the mighty Jigsaw. But greed is always going to be a killer in Saw’s brutally moral universe. “You guys are fucking sick,” comes the cry at one point. You wouldn’t want it any other way, right?
- Director: Kevin Greutert
- Starring: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund
- Release date: September 29 (in cinemas)