'Saw X' Returns Franchise to Gory Glory: "We Wanted to Make This an OG 'Saw' Movie"
"It brings John Kramer back to being the protagonist of the movie and running the show and being himself"
Published Sep 29, 2023Twenty years and 10 films later, there's no denying the power and legacy of the Saw franchise. The first film debuted in 2003 introducing fans to Jigsaw, a.k.a John Kramer, who puts his victims through well-designed and bloody traps, as they refuse to appreciate life or abuse their power to harm others.
Filmmaker Kevin Greutert sits at the helm of Saw X after editing the first five films, as well as the eighth, 2018's Jigsaw, and directing 2009's Saw VI and 2010's Saw 3D.
Saw X (in theatres today) follows John Kramer (played by Tobin Bell) as he travels to Mexico for a risky and experimental medical procedure after receiving a terminal diagnosis, only to discover the entire operation is a scam to defraud the vulnerable. Armed with a purpose, Jigsaw uses deranged traps to turn the tables on the con artists.
While Saw still remains the best in the franchise, Saw X is a close second, giving fans the gore, smart traps and more of John Kramer who's at the centre of the story this time around. The film preserves the legacy of the franchise while still offering fans a fresh spin on the story.
According to Greutert, making fans go on a physical and emotional journey served as the film's focus. "[It's about] committing to telling a unique John Kramer story and making it emotional and feel personal and epic, like you're really going on a physical and emotional journey in this story," he tells Exclaim! in an interview in Las Vegas ahead of the film's release.
"The audience has made it very clear that they love that character, so we took some risks by having him be such a presence in the film, but also hearing his human side," Greutert continues. "He has fallibility; he makes some pretty big blunders in this story, but I think he redeems himself."
Producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg have been with the series since its inception and were keen to make Saw X a return to form. Says Burg, "It brings John Kramer back to being the protagonist of the movie and running the show and being himself. I think the audience missed him. We went back to the original Saw I, II, III, with who was running it, who was in charge, who the characters are."
This story has long been in development — almost seven years — and the reason for that is simple: "Chris Rock," Koules explains with a telling smile. "We were working on [Saw X] late 2017 [and in] 2018 [it was] starting to really get tight. Chris Rock, through a series of coincidences, knew one of the heads at Lionsgate and said, 'I want to be in a Saw movie.' They said: 'Call Mark, talk to Mark.'" What resulted was Spiral: From the Book of Saw, a ill-fated Saw spin-off that earned largely negative reviews.
Koules quickly adds, "This exact story [Saw X] was something we wanted to do for years."
Production designer Anthony Stabley knows that the Saw setting is key to executing the traps and he made sure the deranged traps actually worked.
"This was a lot of fun. One aspect that was really fresh was the fact that we were in Mexico; that was really beautiful and fantastic. The other part was that we were going back to Saw I and II," Stabley recalls. "We wanted to respect the fans and make sure that our lair had those components — the colours and the textures — when we are talking about the traps. We want to make sure that was reflective of John Kramer … and we wanted to infuse that medical theme, which is so important in the movie."
There's a lot going on behind the scenes of a gory Saw trap, which Stabley likens to a Broadway production, "There's all these people behind that wall and they're pulling all of this and then there's people over here doing these turns, and it's all happening at the same time. So it really needed to be orchestrated in a way that was going to be quite effective."
Saw X is most certainly extremely bloody and takes the gore to the next level — a factor embedded in the DNA of the first few films, but lacking in the later ones.
"I like doing that kind of [gory] work, particularly in Saw films," shares Greutert. "They did pull back a bit in [Jigsaw] and [Spiral], particularly in [Jigsaw]. They had their reasons for it, but, to me, it lost some of the intensity and the reputation of Saw. We like to think about John as such a great character and it's so inventive. But really, when people are signing up for a Saw film, a lot of them say, 'Oh, it's gonna be so bloody right?' So we want to satisfy those people as well."
Stabley, who's really proud of the traps in the film, adds, "There are certain requirements for this kind of film because you have a fan base that's hungry for certain components. I feel like, not only did they get that, but they get more because it's so emotionally charged."
The traps also need to have the "it factor," and Saw X does it with subtly. "We really wanted the traps to go back to [being] original, smaller — more ingenuity. More like John Kramer the engineer got all this stuff at Home Depot. We really wanted to make this an OG Saw movie — just blood," says Koules.
The Saw franchise has clearly stood the test of time, through good entries and admittedly not-so-strong ones. Greutert points out that the reason fans come back to the franchise is because it puts the audience in the shoes of the victims and makes them ask themselves: what would I do to stay alive? Could I possibly survive this? Am I brave enough?
"I think people just naturally find that very intriguing," the director observes. "Other films have done this, but there's something about the way we do it in Saw where there's a formula that really works and lands with that concept. The other aspect is Tobin Bell and some of our other characters. People just can't get enough of them."
Koules also acknowledges that it's about Kramer and Bell being at the core of the story: "It's the heart and soul of John Kramer [and] Tobin Bell just embodying this character. In this movie in particular, we spent a ton of time with him as John Kramer, really getting to know him. He's been diagnosed with terminal cancer and he's not quite ready to just call it a day — he's going to fight."
Burg contends, "We wanted to make a movie that a new audience could come see. If you have never seen a Saw movie, you can still see this movie and understand exactly what's happening from the beginning. [And] if this movie works, there are other surprises coming down the road in the next one."