“I would like to play a game.”
I heard it everywhere. When I would mention that I’d be reviewing the 10th entry in the Saw franchise, almost everyone thought I had miscounted. It’s hard for anyone to believe that the franchise has gotten into the double digits, and there’s more. Next October should be the release of Saw XI. I think what confuses folks is that the numbers stopped with Saw VII. The 8th film was called Jigsaw, and the 9th was called Spiral: From The Book Of Saw. Before you know it, numbers don’t mean a heck of a lot. We keep going to see the films and buying them for our home entertainment collections. A movie here. A movie there. Before you know it you have 10 films. Now you can add the 10th film to your library on UHD Blu-ray in 4K. Just remember that it goes next to Spiral on the shelf.
This film is not a sequel to all of the others. There’s a hint that some or all of the events in Saw have occurred, and it falls decidedly before Saw II. So it’s pretty much a sequel. But it just might be the best film in the franchise. Now how many times can you say that about a tenth film?
John Kramer (Bell) has discovered that he has brain cancer. It has grown beyond any hope of treatment, and he’s told he has a mere couple of months to live. We knew he was sick, and in Saw VI we saw an email, if you looked closely, telling him that he was denied an experimental treatment. This film fills in those gaps. John isn’t dealing so well with the concept of limited time remaining, so he goes to a support group. There he meets Henry, played by Michael Breach, who has been one of my favorite television actors since Third Watch. He is also a cancer sufferer who appears more gone than John. Several days, or weeks, later, he’s at a cafe having coffee when he sees a vibrant Henry walking about like he was fine. Naturally he presses the man on his recovery. Henry reluctantly tells him about a miracle cure that a doctor has developed that injects a drug that turns cancer into suicide genes. John reaches out to find they have fled Norway and now operate out of a secluded area near Mexico City. They happen to have one spot open, and if John can get himself down there in time they will include him. John does just that.
After a rocky road to the “clinic”, John meets the team. Diago (Okamoto) is his taxi driver. Cecilia Pederson (Lund) claims to be the daughter of the brilliant man who invented the procedure. She leads the joint. Gabriela (Vaca) is kind of the hostess for the place. Valentina (Hernandez) is the nurse/medical practitioner, and Dr. Mateo (Hinojosa) will be performing the procedure. He has what appears to be brain surgery and is released to a local hotel to recover. He soon discovers what you must be suspecting all along. We hear stories all the time about snake oil salesmen claiming they can cure the dying. Some do it in the name of religion; others just plain con. Let’s just say they picked the wrong guy to con.
“Out of all the men to cheat, you pick John Kramer? I mean, I call that epic bad luck.”
Before we know it he has found Diago and subjected him to a trap. He’s rolled on all of the others, and now he’s in a kind of deserted warehouse where he has Cecilia, Valentina, Gabriela, and Mateo hooked up to his trademark traps. Here’s where this Saw differs from all of the others and why it’s so much better. Jigsaw or John is not just a faceless voice behind a spiral clown mask or tape player. He’s there in the middle of it all acting as a ringmaster to a 4-ring circus, and you will eat it up. This time it’s personal, and John is right there to serve as master of ceremonies. With the help of an old friend, we go through the traps one by one, but it’s that personal touch that sets this apart from whatever your favorite Saw film might be. There’s no police detective following up on the case and matching clues to track anyone down. Those are all distractions from what you really came to see. Tobin Bell may very well be an 80-year-old man, but he will hold your attention in the palm of his hands for two solid hours, and the only clock you’ll be watching are the ones counting down each victim’s life.
“Hell, this isn’t approved by anyone.”
The truth is that this was written a few years ago. It was going to be the immediate followup to Jigsaw (Saw IX). But then along came Chris Rock, who was an ultra-fan of the franchise and had written what would become Spiral. His window was short, so it was an offer they couldn’t refuse. They shelved this story and went into production with Spiral. With COVID slowing things down along the way, this is a film that’s really been five years in the making. Often this kind of thing can kill a project, but let’s be glad it didn’t kill this one. You could say that Saw X passed its test.
I was disappointed that Lionsgate only sent the Blu-ray here. Usually we’d get the 4K, and these devices and locations look so much better in 4K. I won’t cover the Blu-ray image or audio, because I’m pretty sure my recommendation would go to the 4K. But I can’t really recommend that, because I don’t know for sure how well it came out. So all I can say is that this is one of, if not the best film in the franchise. The difference is Tobin Bell, who delivers a compelling performance like none you’ve seen to date. Let’s see more of this. Like all Saw films, there is this strong element of revenge, but that’s not the key here. This is a message to an entire franchise: “This is not retribution. It’s a reawakening.”