SAW X, the newest instalment of the 20 year-old Saw franchise had its World Premiere as the fourth and final Secret Screening at the 2023 Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. (Though to be fair, it was a general but unsubstantiated rumor at the festival that Saw X was to be the final secret screening.)
Despite the name, this installment of the franchise is a flashback, fitting between Saw I & Saw II. Maybe they should have called it Saw 1.5? Given that it was a secret screening, meaning that the audience doesn’t know what the film is until the screening was about to start…it’s a bit ironic that this reviewer has never seen any of the previous instalments in the franchise.
Going in blind, the film mostly stands on its wobbly own as a high production value horror movie, sort of like the way the various James Bond films mostly stand on their own. Here protagonist/ anti-hero Jigsaw, aka John Kramer (Tobin Bell) is facing a health crisis–the brain tumor that kills him in Saw III.
Still, John is willing to try anything get more time to continue his work, After running into someone from his cancer support group who is looking healthy and great who attributes it to “The Pederson Method” a surgery and experimental drug combo he had at a clinic located outside the USA, as the drug cocktail isn’t approved by the FDA. Driven by desperation and hope, he makes contact with Cecelia Pdterson (Synnøve Macody Lund), the très blond, très European doctor whose maybe too-good-to-be-true treatment who convinces John to come to the clinic located outside of Mexico City.
Things don’t go exactly as planned…and there are consequences. Kramer’s assistant Amanda (Shawnee Smith) is there to help with the consequences, consequences that start with the iconic phrase “I want to play a game.”
The kills are inventive, though, troublingly most of the worst of them are saved for the financially desperate Mexico-city based “medical staff” that Peterson hired to carry out her dirty work, not for the beautiful yet super-evil-and-greedy lady running the scam. (It’s notable how great Pederson looks even at the worst of times. Maybe being truly evil is really good for the skin?)
For those nostalgic of the early days of the franchise, the Q&A at Fantastic Fest with Saw’s franchise producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg explained that they used lenses that were used on the earlier films, as well as a color palette and sonic strictures from the early days of the franchise. They also noted that it had been almost exactly 20 years since their first day of shooting a Saw film.
As someone who had never watched a Saw film, but who has seen a lot of other horror films, Saw X is a fine night out at the horror show with a satisfying number of delightfully bloody kills and an appearance from the franchise’s “Billy” on his tricycle.
SAW X had its premiere at Fantastic Fest and is now playing in cinemas everywhere. Our thanks to Fons PR and Team Fantastic Fest for assistance with this review!