This time around, it’s personal. Kevin Greutert’s film opens with an extended series of dramatic scenes, punctuated by Jigsaw imagining a trap for a potential killer as if the producer’s note read: “We can’t go half an hour without something gnarly.” Outside of that fantasy, the opening act tells of John Kramer (Bell) learning the devastating truth about his mortality diagnosis. If you’re saying, “Wait, didn’t that happen already” and “Hold on, John Kramer is dead,” you should know that this one takes place between “Saw” and “Saw II,” so Kramer has already become the Jigsaw Killer but isn’t, well, dead yet.
The first act of “Saw X” allows Bell to actually play the drama of coming to terms with an early demise (that fans know would ironically not be the thing that actually kills him). He goes to therapy, where he meets a man (Michael Beach) who also has a short time left on Earth. When he runs into the group member later, he’s shocked to learn that the now-healthy chap has been the recipient of a life-saving treatment. The potential for a miracle cure sends Kramer into the web of Dr. Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund), who’s performing brain surgery in Mexico because she needs to do her experiments way off the grid. Well, of course, Cecilia and the team of professionals around her are a part of a horrible con game, bilking dying people out of the fortune they hope to leave to their loved ones and promising the worst kind of false hope. They messed with the wrong guy this time.
The set-ups for previous “Saw” films have often been cluttered and difficult to follow, but this one is refreshingly simple in that we watch these people do something horrible to John Kramer, and then he locks them in a room to play his games. And fan favorite Amanda (Smith) is there to help things get appropriately nasty with a few of Jigsaw’s most elaborate devices. Before you know it, someone is using an intestine as a rope and another victim is performing brain surgery on himself. At least the first few traps have a clever synergy in that the people who faked surgery now have to actually do it. All of the traps are more interestingly designed and executed than most of the sequels.