Why Saw X Works So Damned Well

Why Saw X Works So Damned Well

Saw X is a film that only works because it’s the 10th film in the franchise. This story could not have been told by the second or third Saw movie; if this movie were to exist at all, it could only come now, and the franchise is better off for it.

The Saw franchise began almost 20 years ago, in 2004, when then little-known filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell made a fascinating, gruesome horror mystery that got pigeonholed for its violence but was really much more. That became obvious with subsequent sequels which were basically like 90-minute episodes of television: an ongoing, binge-worthy mini-series, before that was a thing. Sequels would start immediately after the events of the previous film, or sometimes simultaneously, and this wild world became insanely popular as a result.

At the centre of Saw is Jigsaw, the moniker of a brilliant engineer named John Kramer (played by Tobin Bell). Facing death from terminal cancer, John begins to put people in unfathomable tests meant to teach them valuable life lessons—tests that also will kill or maim them in increasingly elaborate ways. He’s a fascinating character because he himself never commits the killings. He lets his targets decide how much they want to live.

Nevertheless, despite his unique moral code, John is the “bad guy” of the Saw movies. Very few people in Saw are “good guys,” but John is, at the very least, the person most people fear or hate because of what he does. He’s the Freddy, the Jason, the Michael, except he has a heart and better toys. John dies at the end of Saw III but appears in almost every movie after anyway, mostly in flashbacks.

When people think of Jigsaw, they think of Billy.

Saw X is a prequel set between the events of Saw and Saw II. In the film, John travels to Mexico to undergo an illegal miracle surgery that promises to cure his cancer. However, he soon realizes it’s a scam and gathers everyone involved for a little Jigsaw fun. The big difference with Saw X though, especially when compared to the early Saw movies, is that here John is clearly the “good guy.” He’s not “good”—he’s still dooming victims to almost certain death—but the movie makes us sympathize with him. We get to see into John’s personal life. His home. His free time. We feel and understand his hopes and dreams of maybe beating the cancer. And when John realizes he’s still going to die, we’re as angry about it as he is.

As a result, Saw X isn’t just a straight-on horror mystery like the previous films. It’s a horror revenge story where the audience cheers and sympathizes with the killer. That itself isn’t all that unique, but what makes it stand out in Saw is that it comes as the 10th instalment of the franchise. Over the last nine films and 20 years, fans have come to love John Kramer, aka Jigsaw. You hated and feared him early on, just like you hated and feared Freddy, Jason or Michael. But in later installments, you began to root for those guys and Saw X takes that a step further. It turns the tables completely, using not just the story but Saw fandom and appreciation to its advantage, making the ultimate evil the ultimate hero.

A movie with Jigsaw as a sympathetic hero would not have worked earlier in the series. We didn’t know enough about him and we hadn’t become comfortable enough with his character. But as the 10th movie—after six films in which he’s basically been absent from the action? Well, then it works very, very well.

Saw X is now in theatres.

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