‘Saw X’ and cutting to the feeling | You Scared Me!

Halloween used to belong to “Saw” — a horror series that threads the needle between morality play and tortuous dread ever so mercilessly. 

For years, “Saw” chilled viewers to the bone every October, leaving a legacy of flesh and blood at the box office. As supernatural haunts such as “Paranormal Activity” rose to prominence, however, “Saw” fell from public favor, concluding dismally with the ill-advised “Saw 3D” in 2010. Recent attempts to revive the franchise like “Jigsaw” and “Spiral” ultimately failed to connect with audiences as well.

Lila Baltaxe | Senior Graphic Artist

Therefore, with Halloween just right around the corner, it gives me great pleasure to say that “Saw” is back. An astonishing return to form for the series, “Saw X” being as good as it is should be an anomaly, but this installment is as bold as it is brutal, offering up a grisly collection of traps that aim to shock the sensibilities of even the most hardened horror fan.

Taking place between the events of the first and second Saw films, “Saw X” brings John Kramer (Tobin Bell), the man better known as the Jigsaw Killer, back into the spotlight. While his presence can be felt across nearly every “Saw” movie, this is the first time where Kramer’s narrative takes center stage, a welcome choice that allows Bell to deliver his finest and most emotionally-resonant performance in the series.

Reeling from a terminal cancer diagnosis, Kramer takes an impulsive trip to Mexico City in pursuit of a miracle procedure provided by Dr. Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund). Unfortunately, Kramer’s desperation clouds his ability to recognize that this treatment seems too good to be true — until it is far too late. 

Naturally, Kramer processes things in the only way he knows how — by placing those responsible for this betrayal in a series of twisted games that test their resolve to survive. These are games that result in broken bones, shredded skin and, in my opinion, one of the most revolting uses of internal organs ever shown in a studio horror film.

Even if that sounds like a lot to stomach, “Saw X” complements its more gruesome inclinations with an equally-riveting story. Instead of throwing viewers right into the viscera of it all, director Kevin Greutert spends a fair amount of time developing Kramer’s tormented psyche, allowing audiences to settle into the macabre yet satisfying revenge narrative this film has to offer. 

This greater emphasis on characterization and pacing doesn’t mean the film’s brutality is sanitized, though. “Saw X” features some of the goriest traps this series has ever unleashed, ones that hearken back to the sadistic thrills that made “Saw” so unique in the first place. 

Take, for example, the unthinkable predicament that Valentina (Paulette Hernández) finds herself in. With only three minutes to spare, Valentina has to amputate her leg and extract bone marrow from her wound — if she fails, she’ll be decapitated. This sequence is nearly impossible to watch, but Hernández’s unflinching performance and the sickening outcome of this trap are classic “Saw” through and through.

While “Saw X” takes an unrepentant approach to how it cuts and crushes the human body, the film is most fascinating when it interrogates the souls of its characters as well. Watching Pederson and her accomplices transform into shells of their former selves when faced with the severity of their circumstances greatly increases the film’s sense of urgency and terror.

It also helps that the entire cast is game for the depravity on display here. Although Bell is the star of the show, Shawnee Smith adds a certain pathos to the film as Amanda, Kramer’s accomplice, and the whole supporting cast leaves a mark as they scream and slash through their respective traps — especially Lund, who really shines when Kramer’s code of ethics comes under fire in the third act.

Although it comes across as a bit too eager to set up a potential sequel toward its conclusion, “Saw X” is still a remarkably-compelling movie, and if what it teases for the future of the series comes to fruition, it seems very likely that there will be more games to be played — and more blood to be spilled.

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