It's fascinating to think that slasher films continue to operate in a thin line where strong negative reactions to them are always going to be prevalent, but then, on the other side, there are loyal fans who find a method in the madness. How else would you explain that a film franchise like Saw doesn't just exist but has spawned (now) ten films so far? With the latest one, though, Saw X goes back to finding the spot, which led it to become a 'surprise' hit in the first place. A direct sequel to the first film, Saw and a prequel to Saw II, the tenth instalment had plenty in store for us to analyse. Having had the chance to see the film beforehand, here's what I thought about it-
The Nostalgia & Connection
A bonafide, gruesome, intenstine-spilling, blood-drenching, body-cutting gore fest is never fun viewing (unless you a psychopath or a serial killer). Adding substance to films like these is always a tall order, but a few Saw films have managed to do that, and Saw X is one of the best examples of the same.
The makers strike a master stroke in having Tobin Bell reprise his role as John Kramer and Shawnee Smith as Amanda Young. The fans of the franchise are instantly connected and invested, as it brings a sense of nostalgia and humanization to the bonker stuff going on. Any viewer, who hasn't been a fan or even seen any Saw film might find it incredibly difficult to stomach the happenings, but on the other side, it's a delight (no, I am not crazy to use the word delight in a film review like this).
Fabulous Use of Gore Techniques
As I mentioned, the usage of gore techniques in films is usually overdone by several filmmakers with a misplaced understanding of how they feel just being gruesome is somehow 'cool' or 'path-breaking.' That's fortunately not the case with Saw X, as even though there are enough scenes where you will want to look away from the screen owing to unthinkable things going on, there is a sense of awareness of where to stop with the visuals. For instance, one of the characters has his face being bamboozled by a machine to bits, but that is never shown, and instead, the director adapts a smart thrill technique of having the machine mask made like a reference to an earlier occurrence in the film. All these might seem too tiny to talk about, but are pivotal in the large picture.
The Performances & Legacy
The 81-year-old Tobin Bell as John Kramer delivers a performance like no other. To be seen as fickle and vulnerable while battling cancer and dying soon in the first half and then become a poker-faced punisher in the second half (not a spoiler) is an example of great character development. He is also the reason for the humanization of the storyline towards the climax, which I won't spoil for you. Other actors playing key roles also do their jobs well, as you would expect, but it is Bell who leads the way and reminds us there is no Saw without Bell.
Saw's legacy was undoubtedly on the downside, with films from its world but never entirely connected being just instances of capitalising on the brand. But Saw X is a return to form for the franchise and a rebirth of its legacy that breathes new life (Yes, I see the irony here).
Not For Everyone & Delayed Slowburn
The biggest disclaimer that you can make note of right away is that, without a doubt, Saw X is not everyone, even minus the goriness. There is a particular style of filmmaking and storytelling attached to this series, which might take getting accustomed to, if you want to, so to speak. And then, of course, there is a majority out there who even flinch talking about splitting body parts and a pool of blood (which is normal), let alone signing up for a film that presents that in abundance. And clocking a runtime of almost two full hours, there are a few blank spaces in the film, which, while being effective slow burns, demands a lot from the viewer to stay hooked. These brief moments might pull you out of the film.
In the end, Saw X is a bloody-good treat for the Saw loyalists out there as it reaffirms that there might be some life left in this franchise, and when done effectively, it can still work. The blend of nostalgia, thrills, violence and an insane amount of gore might not be appetising for one and all, but is still an experience to be a part of.
Rating - ***1/2 (3.5/5)