Devon Thomas12 October 2023 | 10:00

'Saw X': An appropriately wholesome reframing of 'torture porn's' biggest legacy

'Saw X' does the unimaginable by producing a movie that hits the sweet spot between being an all-round good time that keep audiences returning and crafting a story with enough substance to care about after the credits are done rolling.

'Saw X': An appropriately wholesome reframing of 'torture porn's' biggest legacy

Promotional poster for 'Saw X' (2023). Picture: X/Saw


Spoiler free.

I have never been the biggest Saw fan – it’s not that I thought the franchise was a flop, but there was very little about it that I felt drawn towards.

And on paper it should be right up my alley: it’s slasher adjacent, it has a cool premise and an iconic villain with a cute puppet, the whole ‘torture porn’ thing always intrigued me, and I found John Kramer (aka Jigsaw) to be a compelling enough antagonist.

But what I found most interesting about the films – which can be their biggest downfall sometimes – was John’s MO where he puts people who have committed a varied range of offences (from simple infidelity to pretty much murder) in these really awful traps to teach them the value of life and emerge a better person. Like, omg Socrates don’t make that face.

Anyway, from what I remember, I liked the original Saw when I saw it several millennia ago, and I liked Saw II as well. I’m sure I’ve seen more movies in the franchise (in fact, I know I’ve seen at least Jigsaw and Spiral: From the Book of Saw) but that is pretty much it.

So, when Saw X was announced, I along with many other genre stans did a collective sigh because I don’t know of anyone who was still trying to check for a new Saw film after Jigsaw’s reception and Spiral, for all intents and purposes, bombing financially with a meh reception from both critics and fans.

Nevertheless, as the movie approached, its trailer dropped, and its marketing absolutely owned social media for weeks (like omg Billy the Puppet stans rise), I actually got really excited about it.

As the release date approached, I brushed up on my Saw knowledge (CZsWorld has this cool video on the history of the franchise I think every genre fan should peep at), rewatched Saw, put on a hot goth-adjacent outfit, and hit the road.

For those as yet unaware of the movie’s premise, it basically functions as Saw 1.5, taking place somewhere between the first and second movies. At first, the idea of pigeonholing a movie between the franchise’s best movies seemed like a cash grab if I ever saw one, but, girl, was I happy to be wrong.

According to IMDb, Saw X follows ‘a sick and desperate John [as he] travels to Mexico for a risky and experimental medical procedure in hopes of a miracle cure for his cancer, only to discover the entire operation is a scam to defraud the most vulnerable.’

Though that premise is fairly simple, it is remarkably effective.

Saw X, unlike any other film in the franchise (which is mind-boggling tbh), focuses its story on John Kramer (Tobin Bell), instead of him appearing as a bona fide sidepiece in a franchise that he was the face of.

The film allows the audience to take the front-row seat to John’s journey after he’s essentially lost hope that he’d ever beat his brain cancer and has only a few months before it’s curtains for him – which Bell does a remarkable job of portraying. For once, a blurb for a Saw film doesn’t feel hyperbolic because John's desperation is palpable where somewhere along his journey, you end up really rooting for this procedure to work – even though as an audience member who at least knows something about the franchise, you are well aware that cancer got his old ass.

Not only that, when the sham of it all is revealed, you feel gutted by it.


John’s heartbreak, loss, and anger become something you emphasise fully with, your heart breaking as he realises that he’s been duped: the puppeteer has become the puppet himself.

It was not looking good for the Billy the Puppet stans because we were down bad.

In that, the movie accomplishes the near impossible: not only does it humanise John, but it transforms him from a franchise antagonist to Saw X’s primary protagonist.

Don’t get me wrong, he still does some very messed up things in the movie and his traps are the most metal it’s ever been (fair warning that the gore is not for the faint-hearted), but for all intents and purposes, you want John to emerge victorious - just like the people he puts his traps in.

This is heightened when Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) enters the picture, and the movie focuses a bit more on their character dynamic. Introduced in the OG film, it is revealed in Saw II’s twist that Amanda has become one of John’s apprentices – a rare instance of someone surviving his traps and ‘becoming a better person’ as one of his disciples.


Though this again could have been a fan service cash-grab, in another first for the franchise (remember we are ten films in), I bought into, and became invested in that dynamic, fully believing why Amanda would work for someone who put her in a reverse bear trap that would have ripped her face apart if she failed her ‘test’.

I’m not even joking, that stuff was like super wholesome.

And in a three-for-three (story-wise at least), Saw X presents the audience – as well as for John and Amanda – a group of characters that all to some extent feel like they deserve to suffer because it is really deranged to con people who are literally on their deathbeds and looking for a miracle that would save their lives.

This is especially true with the woman heading the operation, Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund). This woman is so vile and kept doing so many truly awful things throughout the movie that I wanted her to die so badly but Lund ate her performance up so much that I was lowkey stanning. I just know her ass is a Gemini sun, Scorpio moon, and Capricorn rising.

Saw X perfectly - and finally - presents the franchise with a villain that is so compelling, so cruel, and so demented that it would truly warrant them being placed into one of these traps where you actively root for her to flop.


Honestly, if you couldn’t tell as yet, this is my favourite movie of the franchise – by a landslide. The story is so, so good, the characters are bomb (for the most part), the gore and traps are top tier, the script is decently above average, and the performances of everyone who matters to the story are at the very least convincing (truly shoutout to Bell, Smith, and Lund though).

For a Saw film, this is a near-perfect entry and does everything that you’d want from a movie like this and so much more. Even the mid-credit scene is so good, and I hate mid-credit scenes.

The only thing I can fault it with, really, is that I would have preferred a slightly different ending, one of the characters is truly annoying af, the script could use some tightening, and the twist is nowhere near as iconic as the twists in the movies it's nestled between.

Nevertheless, none of these faults really affected my viewing experience because I just know that this is going to become a movie I will be watching over, and over again when the depression hits, joining the recent likes of Scream (2022), Scream VI, Bodies Bodies Bodies, X, M3GAN, Malignant, and Barbarian.

Ultimately, Saw X does the unthinkable and, ten films in, actually produces an excellent movie, not just in the franchise but for a movie in general, by hitting that sweet spot between being an all-round good time that keeps you coming back to it and crafting a story with enough substance for you to care about long after the credits are done rolling.

I give it 8.5 severed fingers out of 10.

Saw X is out in cinemas everywhere – you should totally check it out if you’re a genre fan or if you’ve been on the fence.

Stream the trailer below.