I love how this asshole died eight films ago and here we are, looking at his “Eminem through an Instagram aging filter” face in yet another one. I love how Saw 3D was marketed as “the final chapter” and three new sequels have been made since then. Saw has devolved into a Weekend at Bernies farce where the creators have ended the series multiple times—and I mean publically murdered it, dynamited the corpse, and fired the ashes into the sun—only for the studio to carry on making more Saws anyway, like nothing happened. Kind of funny. I guess it’s our fault for seeing them.

I realize I’m watching a Saw movie in 2023 and the joke is on me, but can’t they try? A movie is an unexplored frontier: 60-180 minutes of blank space, and you can fill that space with anything. There are no rules. Tape doesn’t care what you put on it. With that in mind, why are we doing this again?

X is better than most movies in the Saw series, but that’s not hard (there will never be a Better Than Most Movies in the Saw Series award at the Oscars) and it still struggles with the fact that the franchise killed its one and only idea 620 minutes ago. Without John Kramer, there’s nothing, so they need to keep bringing him back, using increasingly contrived methods. Saw X is actually Saw 1.5: set between the events of Saw and Saw II. Kramer, you will recall, is dying of cancer (which I believe: Tobin Bell looks 20 years older than he did in the first film), so he undertakes an experimental new treatment procedure at a clinic in Mexico. The clinic turns out to be a fraudulent scam, preying on the desperate and gullible. Kramer decides to get revenge on them before he dies.

Setting the film in the past creates its own set of continuity problems (didn’t the Mexican Federales notice such gruesomely distinctive crimes, and draw parallels to the American Jigsaw killer?), but it doesn’t matter: the franchise long ago abandoned realism. In particular, Kramer is absurd. Once he was merely a super-genius, now he’s literally God, possessing perfect omniscience, knowing everything about everyone, and predicting the moves of others six steps ahead. While dying of cancer he designs and builds room-sized torture machines that would take a team of MIT undergrads six months and millions of dollars to construct. He’s such an unbelievable figure that it destroys what was interesting about the first movie: its sense of psychological realism.

The franchise has changed since the James Wan days. The first Saw had little gore, and was a “smart” horror/crime thriller in the mould of Se7en/Silence of the Lambs. Later entries dipped their toes into various horror fads such as splatterpunk, and found footage. Now we’re in the era of tedious “prestige horror”, so we get hokey scenes of Kramer fixing some Mexican kid’s bike, just to show he has a heart. I liked it more when he was a bad guy.

But that’s the problem with any horror franchise: the monster eventually becomes the hero. In the first Saw, your sympathies lay with the poor schmucks screwed into John Kramer’s machines. They were flawed, but redemption was possible. But now? Kramer is the star of the show, so they make his victims loathsome scum who basically deserve to die horribly. But if I no longer care if they live or die, what’s the point?

The Mexican setting is a waste—the film is as visually bland as ever—and aside from the expected “Hello Zepp” drop the music sounds like temp tracks. The plot makes little sense. Greutert directs like he’s assembling Ikea furniture. No inspiration exists. The Saw franchise is beyond dead and beyond a joke and they should either stop making them or be forced to stop. At least the title is accurate: this sawx.

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