The blood is good. The traps are good. The series’ nastiness is intact, even as it all looks a bit bigger and a bit slicker. The important thing is that “Saw X” continues to be unafraid of its own continuity, so infatuated with its own delightful bulls***. Those who watched the various flashbacks throughout the “Saw” franchise and wished we could see more of John Kramer and Amanda as a mentor/mentee duo will get exactly what they want here. We met them at the end of their sometimes contentious relationship, so it’s perfectly “Saw” that we finally get to see them working at the height of their powers in part 10. Bell and Smith’s chemistry, the twisted heart of “Saw III,” is a highlight. It can’t help but feel like an unexpected gift for the committed.
The real star of the show is, somehow for the first time, Tobin Bell. Reduced to the edges of the core series, and deader than dead by “Saw IV,” John Kramer has lingered over the whole franchise like a faint curse, a bad dream that has infected his seemingly limitless disciples. “Saw X” gladly and happily puts him front-and-center, the first film in the series to be truly built around John, and around Bell as a performer. Bell stays within the framework previously established for the character, but it’s delightful to watch Kramer actively at work, a man dedicated to his twisted sense of justice and utterly high on his own supply. And yes, a man with a seemingly unlimited supply of back-up plans. Bell knows that Jigsaw is ridiculous, that lingering for more than a few minutes on his entire modus operandi causes it to fall apart, so he plays Kramer as … just a guy. A committed guy, but one who has the gravitas of a slightly eccentric uncle. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, but that’s what you get when you work with an actor who has had a career as long as Bell. The man understands the assignment.