It has been nearly twenty years since the duo behind Twisted Pictures, Oren Koules and Mark Burg, teamed up with director-writer duo James Wan and Leigh Whannell–opening the doors for what is now one of the most iconic franchises in horror history. After recent films decided to tread new ground, with Spiral: From the Book of Saw moving beyond John Kramer–Saw X is bringing the franchise back to its roots.
Directed and edited by Kevin Greutert, whose involvement goes back to the first Saw film, Saw X turns back time with Tobin Bell reprising his role as John Kramer–giving audiences a deeper look at Jigsaw's battle with cancer before his demise in Saw III. After traveling to Mexico in hopes of finally finding a cure for his cancer, John discovers that this final leap of faith was in vain–merely a scam orchestrated by those who prey on the most vulnerable. The unsuspecting team of con artists then find themselves the next pupils who must be taught the value of life.
Ahead of the film's September 29th release date, we sat down with director Kevin Greutert and production designer Anthony Stabley to chat about the craftsmanship that went into the film, as well as how they handled not only the return of Jigsaw (Bell) but his apprentice, Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith).
Kevin Greutert has been with the franchise since the beginning, but since directing Saw VI and VII, has gone on to work on projects very much outside of the style of Saw, such as Jessabelle. Coming back for Saw X, did you try to bring anything new to the table?
Kevin Greutert: Well, I think I was more experienced in every way from doing these different kinds of films. Jessabelle is a very different film, being that it is supernatural and it's trying to cast a spell; whereas coming back to this, I was like 'I got this.' There are flaws that may be present in the earlier Saw movies I did, as I'm sure there are with this one, but I had a much better grasp on the kinds of coverage I needed to get as I was directing, interacting with and casting actors that could deliver the intensity that made the traps believable. I'm also more experienced as an editor, so I was able to better craft the film the way I wanted it.
In addition to franchise veterans, some new blood is joining the team. Was there a game plan for keeping this new one exciting for old fans but reeling in some Jigsaw converts?
KG: That's exactly our goal, and I think we had a good balance.
Anthony Stabley: I think we were ahead of the game when we set it in Mexico. That made it really fresh. We also wanted to really respect the fans. So, we looked at the first two Saw films for elements like the colors, the grittiness, and the textures. Nick Matthews did a fantastic job shooting this picture. Looking at the color of the film, we harken back to the Giallo films that were an inspiration for the filmmakers of the first one. We hit all the marks that we wanted to hit. But what I think makes this one different is that it is an emotional journey for John, so it is something that audiences are really going to grab onto. Because of that, we have a massive payoff at the back end of the movie because it just really makes sense. When you look at all of those ingredients, I think we have a really great film.
It definitely is a more emotional film. You mentioned that it is John's journey, but Amanda is also present, and there's an interesting thing going on with her character–specifically, how the presence of another character feeds into some of her insecurities. Can you talk briefly about the thoughts that went into Amanda's arc?
KG: With Amanda, I wanted to fill in some gaps with her character– between the 'sad junky' that we meet in the first Saw and the sassy rebellious Jigsaw apprentice we have in Saw III. When I was studying the script, there was this Gabriella character who is also a drug addict. I thought that we could enhance that element to show that Amanda has sympathy for this person, given that she is about to go through a test that could kill her. That is the seed of her possibly doubting John Kramer's philosophy. I'm hoping that audiences will see that this creates great tension in their scenes, gives her more texture, and answers some questions about her character.
We also had a chance to sit with producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules to discuss the timelines, traps, and new characters.
You've said this is five years in the making and that this is a really special story. I'm sure fans are wondering what took so long to bring this film to life.
Mark Burg: Well, we wanted to do this story…then Chris Rock approached us with an idea for a Saw movie that he wanted to write, direct, and star in. While it didn't happen in a way that he was able to direct the film, he starred in it and came up with the story. So, we did Spiral. But we wanted to come back to this story that we were working on pre-Spiral, and it was really important for Oren and me to do a story that predated John dying. That means we had to set it before Saw III. We wanted Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith to be in the movie. Their relationship changes between Saw II and Saw III, so we had to set this somewhere between Saw and Saw II.
Oren Koules: In our minds, although it might not be this way for everyone because everyone has their own perception of the story, this is about three weeks after Saw I. The story continues. John has Shawnee, and she's been saved. He has cancer, as you see in Saw and he's not doing great, but he's looking to extend his life.
There's a character in this film that really challenges John. Would you say that this film is John's test?
OK: It's definitely a test. SynnØve Macody Lund, who plays Dr. Cecilia Peterson, is an unbelievable adversary for him. She's physically around six feet tall and incredibly brilliant as a person and in the script. The story that we felt needed to be told was that this is him as a normal person. We really wanted John to come through. Not just Jigsaw, but John Kramer.
How would you rate this on the gore level? Is it a tamer or more extreme Saw movie?
OK: It's definitely not tame.
MB: It's our favorite Saw movie we've made. It has a lot more heart–like you said, it's emotional. You really get to know a lot of the characters in a much more in-depth way that we didn't do in the past. You know John Kramer better than you have in the past. We spend more time with him as John Kramer than we do with him as Jigsaw, which we thought was important. When it comes to the gore factor, it's a ten. We went through more blood in this movie than we had in any of the other Saw movies. The last trap went through gallons and gallons of blood.
Was it hard coming up with a story that would keep old fans entertained but get some new Jigsaw converts?
OK: Well, that was the goal. We tried to do two things: we wanted people who had never seen a Saw movie before to understand it while still being an OG-style kind of original Saw movie that we knew the hardcore fans would love. Get new fans, but really give it to the old fans.
With that said, can we expect any more in the future?
MB: it's up to the audience…if it works and Lionsgate wants another one, there will be more.
Saw X is in theaters September 29, and also on our FANGORIA Issue #21 newsstand cover.