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The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

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Do You Want to Play a Game?: A Review of Horror Film “Saw X”

Photo+owned+by+Lionsgate.
Photo owned by Lionsgate.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! 

“I want to play a game,” is one of the most recognizable phrases of 21st century horror, and a sign of complex, nearly-impossible-to-escape death traps and puppets on tricycles to come. 

19 years ago, on October 29th, 2004, Saw was released in theaters. Saw, the directorial debut from James Wan, tells the story of John Kramer (Tobin Bell), also known as Jigsaw. Jigsaw kidnaps individuals and puts them into intricate, violent traps, in hopes of teaching them a “lesson”. 

The very first Saw film follows the story of two men, named Adam (Leigh Wannell) and Lawrence (Cary Elwes), who wake up in a dingy, rotting bathroom, their ankles chained to pipes as they attempt to figure out exactly why they have been kidnapped. Saw, initially an indie film with a modest budget of $1 million, went on to become one of the most influential franchises in the horror genre. 

Ten films later, in the year 2023, the Saw franchise returns with Saw X, released in theaters on September 29. In the timeline of Saw, Saw X takes place in between Saw and Saw II, telling the story of John Kramer’s endeavor to Mexico in order to receive an experimental treatment for his brain cancer. The treatment Kramer is expected to receive is not at all legitimate, and he is left with psychological distress and no actual improvement to his condition. 

Adding to this distress, this supposed “organization” he interacts with is a scam crafted to receive money from the vulnerable and the ill. This event in particular triggers his creation of a variety of complicated and dangerous traps, traps that victims must find a way to effectively escape if they want to survive. 

This film, to put it very simply, is suspenseful, engaging, and surprisingly plot-driven for a gory horror movie. The early half of the film lacks significant gore, and highlights Kramer’s frustration with his inability to receive an effective cancer treatment.

Kramer, desperate to lengthen his life expectancy, heeds the advice he receives from a man he met in a cancer support group. This man directs him to the aforementioned organization, and Kramer researches this experimental Norwegian cancer treatment. 

The continuation of this plot is extremely interesting, the audience introduced to the con artists behind the operation in a positive manner, painting them as kind-hearted and absolutely selfless. When Kramer arrives in Mexico City, he meets a woman named Gabriela (Renata Vaca), who is very warm and kind to Kramer, claiming that she too has experienced the trauma of being a cancer patient. Gabriela states that this organization has saved her life, and in turn gives Kramer even more hope. 

The turning point in the earlier half of the film is when it is revealed that all of the “doctors”/medical professionals that work for this organization are con artists, most of them being impoverished and in need of money. It’s a complex situation; the head of this operation, Cecilia (Synnøve Macondy Lund), offers money to these individuals to act as participants, and because they are of low-income and experience difficult life situations, they accept. 

To scam those who are also vulnerable and often low income is absolutely unethical, but for most of these individuals, they feel as if they have no other choice. Gabriela, the aforementioned woman Kramer forms a connection with, is revealed to be a drug addict. Drug addiction is an illness, and those who struggle with it are in a compromised state of mind, often engaging in unethical/detrimental activities in order to earn money to satisfy their addiction. Are these participants inherently bad people? Or are their actions a result of complex circumstances? 

Another question to consider is if Kramer’s reaction to this is justified, a question that has been asked many times in regard to the Saw franchise. Many viewers of the series agree that while Kramer is a complex and captivating villain, the crimes he commits are inherently unethical. Kramer’s moral compass is often nonsensical, for he conflates issues of varying severity into the same category. To Jigsaw, a crime such as murder is equal to petty theft or drug addiction. A lot of Kramer’s victims have done something to him personally, or to someone he cares about. 

To return to the first Saw film, Adam is hired to take photographs of Lawrence by a former detective who believes that he is, in fact, Jigsaw. He only does this out of necessity in order to earn enough money to survive. It’s interesting to speculate if this makes him a bad person, though most would agree that this is not a valid reason for his untimely death. Is Kramer’s former victim and long-time apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith) worthy of shame for committing unspeakable crimes, or is she just a vulnerable person who succumbs to Stockholm syndrome? 

Considering the moral implications of horror movies may be pointless and overall missing the point of the genre, but Saw X is a film that brings these complicated questions to the forefront. It is easily the most story-driven entry in the series, and while the latter half of the film consists of an abundance of extreme gore, that is not all the film is. Saw X is absolutely a film worth seeing. It’s very fitting to watch in this Halloween season, and while one doesn’t necessarily have to watch the entire series beforehand, it is recommended that you watch Saw, Saw X, and then Saw II, in that order.

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Angelina Clark, Web Editor

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