It’s nearly 20 years since James Wan’s Saw (2004) kicked off an unlikely franchise, elevating familiar bit player Tobin Bell to horror stardom as John Kramer (aka Jigsaw) and trademarking a unique mode of horror sequence in which a hapless victim struggles in the coils of a torture contraption which can be escaped if they’re willing to perform painful auto-surgery and learn a lesson about the value of human life.
Between 2004 and 2010, there were seven Saws, culminating in Saw 3D. Since then the series has tried reboots via a pick-up-the-plot-threads-a-decade-on sequel Jigsaw and a spinoff Spiral From the Book of Saw. Neither of those quite clicked with fans, so Saw X goes back to the original run and tells a story which slots in somewhere between Saw and Saw III and finds Bell back on form as a psycho who is here unambiguously, a vigilante hero doing horrid things to people who really, really deserve it.
Kevin Greutert has worked on most of the Saws in some capacity and is back securely in the director’s chair while the Piranha 3D team of Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger – who did the last two spinoffs – invent a fresh, odious opponent for Kramer in Synnove Macody Lund’s Dr Cecilia Pederson, an icy blonde malpractitioner who at one point seems ruthless enough to trap Jigsaw in one of his own games.
The death traps are showy but perhaps a bit samey – we miss such series heights as the corrupt judge nearly drowned in liquidised maggoty hog carcasses (Saw III) and the roulette wheel of shotguns revolving around the office workers who invalidate insurance claims (Saw VI) – though it builds up to a classic game of double- and triple-bluff.
Bell shows a softer side – though not to victims, obviously – and deserves plaudits for his consitently affecting performance.
Saw X will be available to buy and rent from 30 October