Admit it, you missed Jigsaw a little.
Certainly, Spiralthe most recent entry in the hugely successful Saw horror movie franchise, had Chris Rock in the cast. But a copycat killer just doesn’t compare to the original, John Kramer, played so indelibly by Tobin Bell in every other film in the series. Fans of these twisted torture porn films (the names of which should probably be registered with local authorities) will be happy to hear that Bell is back in the 10th and latest entry, with the imaginative title Saw X, and that he has more screen time than ever before. That’s what not being dead anymore will do to a character.
It comes down to
Sick and twisted, and those are the selling points.
To break it down for those unfamiliar with the franchise, Bell’s character John Kramer, who was nicknamed Jigsaw for creepy reasons that don’t need to be explained here, died at the end of the film. Saw 3. But that didn’t stop the films’ producers from bringing him back in the form of flashbacks and footage in future episodes. They have now gone back in time for this film, set between the events of Saw And Saw II. I hope you understood all that because at the end of this review there will be a test.
Anyway, in this movie Kramer is still suffering from the terminal cancer that wasn’t actually supposed to kill him (look it up if you have to). This provides the ironic opportunity to see Jigsaw – who has locked up more people than you can count through horrific torture that often led to their deaths – participating in a support group for cancer patients. But hey, every villain has a sensitive side, especially when it comes to his own demise.
When he later encounters a fellow group member (Michael Beach) who has made a remarkable recovery, Kramer learns about a life-saving treatment created by a Norwegian doctor that is obviously not approved in the US. So after contacting the doctor’s daughter Cecilia (Synnove Macody Lund), who has taken over the practice, he heads to Mexico and undergoes the supposedly life-saving surgery at a secret clinic outside Mexico City.
Of course, it all turns out to be a scam, with the doctors, nurses, and even the driver who picked Kramer up from the airport all part of the scam. And if there’s one person you don’t want to con, it’s John Kramer, who quickly turns the tables by capturing them and subjecting them to his very specific brand of gaming skills. He is helped by his trusted student Amanda (Shawnee Smith), who was still his trusted ally at that time. (That both Bell and fan-favorite Smith are many years older than when they originally played their characters in this time frame is something you have to get over.)
It takes a little longer than usual, but Saw X eventually arrives at its true raison d’être, depicting in gory detail the ways in which Jigsaw’s victims succeed or fail to free themselves from the gruesome, Rube Goldberg-esque death traps he’s devised for them. It usually involves making terrible choices, such as (in the case of this film) having to saw off your legs to avoid being decapitated, breaking your arm and foot to avoid being irradiated to death, and having your skull open having to break and remove your own brain matter to… well, you get the idea. This is the kind of horror movie where a character using someone’s intestines as a lasso is just par for the course.
“You guys are fucking sick,” an observer tells Kramer and Amanda, and it’s hard to disagree with him. (Who needs critics when the characters are doing the work for you?) Nevertheless, these films are undeniably devilishly clever in the way they somehow make Kramer sympathetic even as he does monstrous things to people. As he often emphasizes, he never commits actual murders; his victims always have a chance to survive if they have enough courage (sometimes literally). When Cecilia asks him early in the film what he does for a living, Kramer tells her, “I help people overcome personal obstacles,” and you half believe him. You end up cheering him on, both because his victims are so despicable and because he’s so damn ingenious in his devilish technical skills.
None of this would work nearly as well without Bell, whose gravelly voice and menacing gravity are so compelling that he makes Jigsaw’s oft-repeated declaration, “I’d like to play a game,” utterly terrifying. He truly made the character iconic, just like Robert Englund did with Freddy Krueger. Do not accept substitutions.
Production companies: Twisted Pictures
Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnove Macody Lund, Steven Brand, Renata Vaca, Michael Beach, Paulette Hernandez, Octavio Hinojosa, Joshua Okamoto
Director: Kevin Greutert
Screenwriters: Pete Goldfinger, Josh Stolberg
Producers: Oren Koules, Mark Burg
Executive Producers: Daniel Jason Heffner, Ketura Kestin, Jason Constantine, Gregg Hoffman, James Wan, Leigh Whannell, Stacey Testro
Director of Photography: Nick Matthews
Production Designer: Anthony Stabley
Costume Designer: Jimena Tenerio Martinez
Editor: Kevin Greutert
Composer: Charlie Clouser
Casting: Nancy Nayor
Rated R, 1 hour 58 minutes