Saw X has just hit theaters – and critics are raving about it. The tenth installment picks up just weeks after James Wan's Saw, following a sick and desperate John Kramer (Tobin Bell) as he travels to Mexico for a risky and experimental medical procedure in hopes of a miracle cure for his cancer. When John learns that the facility is run by scam artists whose goal is to extort money from the weak and vulnerable, he decides to go full Jigsaw mode and make the scammers pay.
Directed by Kevin Greutert (Saw 6, Saw 3D), the film sees the return of Amanda (Shawnee Smith), Saw trap survivor turned John's protege, as well as a few surprise cameos from some characters you might have forgotten about.
We spoke to producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules about Saw traps, origin stories, and bringing the franchise back to the man who started it all.
GamesRadar+: Saw X is seven years in the making. Can you explain why you feel now is the best time to tell this part of John's story?
Mark Burg: Well, we started working on the script in, like, end of 2017 and we were planning on going forward with this, and then Chris Rock approached Lionsgate saying, "I love Saw, I'd like to do a Saw movie." So we started developing a story with him that ultimately became Spiral, and this kind of got put on the back burner.
We did a giant brand study with Lionsgate. They wanted a movie where Tobin Bell is alive, where Shawnee Smith is in the movie. They love the original characters and they didn't want Tobin just in flashbacks. So we decided that we'd make a movie pre-Tobin dying – he died in Saw III.
So we came up with a story that takes place immediately following Saw I. In our Saw world, it's probably three, four weeks after Saw I ends. Kevin Greutert worked with our writers and myself. And we really wanted Kevin to direct the movie because he's either edited or directed every Saw movie. It was important that we have somebody that really knows the Saw history of what Tobin looked like, felt like, what he was thinking. I mean, we're going back a long time and the movie just is, is really, really good.
I know it's self-serving, but it's far and away our favorite Saw. And from everybody that has seen it, they pretty much agree it's the most passionate one we've made. It's the most complete movie, and [the one where] you really feel all the characters.
Oren Koules: It's really personal. The first big chunk of the movie, it's John Kramer. John Kramer is a human no different than you would be or Mark or myself. He has terminal cancer in this movie – I mean, in this whole series. And he's looking to extend his life, and that's what his journey is on as this movie begins.
We get to see John actually planning and setting the traps himself, which is so intimate. Is that something you feel has been missing from the franchise as a whole?
OK: This is a very personal story. It feels like I'm being very self-serving [by saying this], but it's by far our best movie. It's our longest movie by I think 25 minutes. And you see, it's very deliberate. It's got everything you want, but it's got a ton of heart.
MB: The traps kind of go back to basics. Our traps started getting, we thought a little too complex, a little too over the top. And [in Saw X] John's more like, "I went into Home Depot and I put this together. I went to a hardware store." So it's like I said, we think it's the best Saw movie period.
OK: And we're not just saying that. We did a junket earlier and everyone who saw the movie – people were hugging us. They were really excited. They just loved the movie and it's what we tried to do. This is the longest we ever developed a script. We just worked on trying to honestly answer as many of the fans' questions and thoughts that we could, if that makes any sense. It wasn't groupthink, it was just when a hundred people say to you in a row that they really loved the early sound of Saw movie, the early colors of Saw. We really tried to listen. Kevin Greutert crushed it.
I feel like John Kramer/Jigsaw is kind of looked at as a villain with a layered story. Would you say that after this film, fans will look at him as more of an anti-hero?
OK: I would say the majority of the people who have seen it so far consider him the protagonist of the movie.
MB: You'll have a lot of sympathy for John, and you'll be rooting for him in this movie after the first five minutes.
OK: Mark and I were on a panel Comic-Con for Saw 2 or 3 and there were like four questions in a row where people would say, "So John is the hero, John is the protagonist." And then I'm whispering to Mark, "He's the hero?" [laughs] So it's something that's really stuck with us in developing these movies.
MB: We put people on the edge of their seats hoping John Kramer survives. We saw it with a room full of critics that cheered – and we were in shock. That's never happened before.
Amanda plays a very significant role in this movie. I'm curious as to how that's going to impact Saw 3, specifically Amanda and John's relationship and their subsequent deaths.
OK: It's kind of seamless. Saw I ends, John Kramer closes the door – this is about three weeks after – and he's living his life again as John Kramer and stuff goes sideways, so he reaches out to basically his newest disciple – a person he's saved, [that person] being Amanda. And it all fits exactly all the way through Saw 2, whether or not you've seen Saw 3, it absolutely fits. And we worked so much on that. I mean, literally the six people or so that have been with the franchise from day one, hours and hours in tons of food consumed sitting around talking about, "If this is this, then this has to be this. No we can't do that."
MB: There are some other characters that come back as a surprise in this movie. And should this movie work, there'll be more characters coming back from previous movies.
Going off of that, is this the last time we'll get this close of a look at John? Or is there more story to tell, more backstory, more origins to delve into?
MB: When you get to the end of this movie that question is answered. You'll be like, "OK, I need to continue this and find out exactly where he goes from here."
Saw X is in theaters now. For more, check out our list of the most exciting upcoming movies in 2023 and beyond.