‘Saw X’ Director Kevin Greutert on Making the Franchise’s First Critically Acclaimed Film

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[This story contains spoilers for Saw X.]

If anyone deserved to be at the helm of the Saw franchise’s first critically acclaimed film, it’s Saw X director Kevin Greutert. The editor-turned-director has been credited on every single Saw film, be it as an editor, director or executive producer, beginning with James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s original Saw (2004). Greutert chalks Saw X’s success up to an accessible plot and the calculated risk of asking the audience to empathize more than ever with the franchise’s signature antagonist, John “Jigsaw” Kramer (Tobin Bell).

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“We took a risk by really fleshing out John Kramer’s character. It’s contrary to the Jaws and Alien wisdom that the less you see of your monster, the better. If this movie had a chance, it was going to be by going deep into John Kramer,” Greutert tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Besides a certified-fresh badge on Rotten Tomatoes, Saw X opened with $18.3 million on a $13 million budget, so the film’s box office performance implies that there’s still plenty of appetite left for the horror franchise. As a direct sequel to Saw (2004) and a prequel to Saw II (2005), Saw X concludes with Kramer and his apprentice, Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith), taking a young child named Carlos (Jorge Briseño) under their wing. This character offers another potential way forward for the franchise, as the Saw brain trust could always check in with a grown-up Carlos in the present day.

For now, Greutert is viewing Saw X as a goodbye to Jigsaw.

“We’ll just have to see what the future of Saw is,” Greutert says. “There are so many directions we could go, but for me, there’s no obvious one coming out of this film. I really wanted it to feel like a kind of final send-off for the Jigsaw character, but never say never.”

Below, during a recent spoiler conversation with THR, Greutert also discusses the franchise’s regret over killing off Bell’s Jigsaw all the way back in Saw III (2006).

Well, hell has frozen over as the Saw franchise finally has a critically acclaimed film. 


Did test screenings give you some indication that this might be possible?

Well, we didn’t do any kind of traditional test screening. We really never do on the Saw films out of concern that spoilers are going to leak out. I can say that when I first started showing scenes to the producers and to Lionsgate, their reactions were really encouraging. And then, when the film was finally cut together and people started seeing it, I felt pretty good. I felt like it was really going to be great. And even in the preparation stage, when I was hiring crew members and showing candidates the script, some of them knew nothing about Saw, but you could feel their enthusiasm for it. So you could see at the script stage that it was going to be pretty cool.

Saw X
Tobin Bell as John “Jigsaw” Kramer in Saw X

In hindsight, what do you consider to be the key to this movie’s success?

There’s a simplicity to this film that makes it a little bit easier to comprehend and digest, and that was done deliberately in the hope that new audiences, who don’t necessarily know all the twists and turns of the Saw history, would come to the film. We took a risk by really fleshing out John Kramer’s character. It’s contrary to the Jaws and Alien wisdom that the less you see of your monster, the better. But I felt like if this movie had a chance, it was going to be by going deep into John Kramer and showing some fallibility and ultimately trying to get the audience to participate in his emotional journey, both the happy part and the tragic.

Your marketing team created an incredible parody of Nicole Kidman’s AMC ad, and then AMC ultimately had you pull it down. Do you think that resulted in the Streisand effect where the attention from the takedown was more valuable in the end? 

I’m not sure. Once it was taken down, it was harder for people to see it, but it was up for a full day and it got out there, for sure. So I don’t know. I wish that it hadn’t been taken down, because I think it was genius and I really loved it, but the takedown itself probably gave us some pretty good buzz.

Saw X definitely spends more time in John Kramer’s shoes than ever before, and I find that interesting since he wasn’t in the last movie, Spiral. Is this an indication that it was a mistake to make the last movie without him? 

Well, I didn’t really have a role in that decision, but we all love Tobin and we all love what he’s done. I wouldn’t have done this film if it was a non-John Kramer story. So, yeah, I think that they might’ve wished they’d done things a little bit differently on the last film for that very reason.

Saw X
Saw X

With a successful ten-film franchise, one could argue that killing off John Kramer in Saw III has worked out just fine, but have the powers that be ever regretted that decision? Or are the workarounds part of the fun of it all?

I think there is regret. (Laughs.) It would just be a lot easier to make these films if that hadn’t happened, but at the same time, the first three were largely considered the best of the Saw series. There was a kind of integrity, I think, to really trying to make a trilogy and nothing more. And decisively killing the character off, that integrity, as it was perceived at the time at least, was pretty important in making the story great. But the fact that more movies had to be made, we did the best that we could, and in some cases, it was pretty great to do it through flashbacks and all that. But yeah, there’s definitely a lot of desire to have not killed him off.

In Saw X, Kramer is tempted with this experimental procedure and cocktail that can supposedly cure his terminal illness, and when he wonders why it’s not available in the States, it’s explained that Big Pharma would rather make money off their ongoing treatments. This is a narrative that people have used a lot these last few years. Is that what inspired that story point? 

Well, there are things like long Covid scammers where they promise medical treatment for people that are suffering from something that’s pretty enigmatic to mainstream science. There’s the vax movement … But we tried not to be too overtly political the way that we were on Saw VI. To me, the Cecilia [Synnøve Macody Lund] character more represents a general sense of [con men and liars]. Not everybody is going to believe their lies, but they lie with impunity knowing that they’re having an impact and they’re getting their way. And so, for me, it’s more of a subtle theme about con men and liars in general.

Michael Beach’s character, Henry, recruits marks at cancer meetings, and it reminded me of a Breaking Bad subplot in which Jesse and his friends went to NA meetings to sell meth to recovering addicts. So Henry deserved his fate when he ended the movie in the famous Saw bathroom. Is it always a rush to recreate that set, even if it’s a bare-bones version of it? 

Yeah, it’s not as easy as you would think. Every time we return to that location, the fans have an incredible eye for the details that they expect. In fact, we never tore down the set that we built for this movie. It’s still sitting in the abandoned factory where we shot the film. If they want to go back to it, it needs to be available because it’s just so much work to recreate it.

How often do you guys hear from James Wan and Leigh Whannell at this rate? Are they the loving family members you never really see?

Yeah, they obviously love and support what we do with the franchise, but creatively, I didn’t really have the opportunity to confer with them about what we were doing with this film. But they’ve definitely been really great, and I’m incredibly grateful that they made the franchise and included me and continue to support it.

As a director-editor, when you call cut on set, does it typically coincide with where you’d cut in the edit? Are you editing in your head as you’re directing?

Well, I’m always thinking about editing, but more from the point of view of what kind of shots do I need. In the case of a scene like the big central introduction to the main space where Cecilia wakes up and meets John and Amanda, some of those takes were 24-minutes long because there’s so much dialogue in that scene. So, to cut at the end of a shot is definitely not the cut in the scene because I might use 40 pieces of every take or something like that. While I’m shooting, I don’t usually think, “Okay, I’m going to use that piece of that line.” All of those decisions are made in the editing room, but I am making decisions editorially by just knowing what shots I need to get.

There are certainly some famous examples of editors who’ve transitioned to the director’s chair, but nowadays, how often do you hear about other editors who’ve made the leap like you have?

Yeah, I don’t know of that many contemporaries. Patrick Lussier is one of the great contemporary editors, and he’s directed My Bloody Valentine and some other films. But I don’t know that many others. I know Mike Flanagan edits a lot of his own work, but I don’t think he began as just an editor. The classics, of course, are David Lean, Hal Ashby and Robert Wise, so those are my real heroes.

You knew ahead of time that you were going to end your movie with the classic “Hello Zepp” theme, so did you play it on set for extra impact and timing? 

No, but it would be interesting to try that. Looking back on it, it almost feels like it must’ve been playing. When we see some action that takes place towards the end of the movie involving John, it feels very organic to it. I suppose it’s a callback to the first Saw, but no, I don’t play it back on the set. I’m playing it in my head though, for sure, or I’m sometimes singing it. (Laughs.)

Did you cut that sequence during production since you already had the music?

No, I don’t really do any substantial editing while I’m shooting. There just isn’t time for it. I just shoot the footage that I think I’m going to need and hope for the best.

Is the kid, Carlos (Jorge Briseño), going to be the future of the franchise? That dramatic final shot of him arm in arm with Amanda (Shawnee Smith), John and a bag of cash suggests as much.

(Laughs.) Well, we’ll just have to see what the future of Saw is. There are so many directions we could go, but for me, there’s no obvious one coming out of this film. I really wanted it to feel like a kind of final send-off for the Jigsaw character, but never say never. As far as that actor [Jorge Briseño], he’s such an amazing little gentleman. I think he has a huge career ahead of him, and I would love to work with him again.

For all the crazy moments you’ve edited on screen, are you a bit jealous that your first assistant editor (Steve Forner) got to have that wild story involving the police?

(Laughs.) Steve Forner was working without headphones at home, and for those doubters, he actually has a Ring camera video with the police coming to the door and saying, “We’ve heard that someone is screaming for help in your house.” I had initially posted that video, but I was told to take it down. So it did really happen, but I’m not jealous because I don’t want to get the cops in my hair that way. But Steve took it in stride, and frankly, so did the cops themselves, once they knew that it was a Saw movie being made. They all thought it was pretty funny.

Paulette Hernandez as Valentina in Saw X
Paulette Hernandez as Valentina in Saw X

Do you ever worry about running out of gags or trap ideas? 

It’s harder than you would think to come up with this stuff. It’s not just a matter of saying, “What are some cool ways you could kill a person?” It has to fit into the story. There has to be the possibility of them surviving, and it has to thematically tie into what the character’s story, lie and flaw is. I’d say that the hardest part of making these films is coming up with novel games. And by the end of making any given Saw, I always walk away with the sense that I don’t know what else we could possibly do, but here we are on 10. So I think we’ve managed to keep it fresh, and I’m sure we’ll figure it out if we make another one.

With credits on Saw X, Cobweb and Barbarian, you’re on a bit of a hot streak of late. Why was Cobweb released in the limited fashion that it was? Horror is as sure a bet as you can make right now.

Yeah, I’m not sure. I wasn’t involved at that level. I was just doing the editing, but yeah, it is a shame. There’s just no accounting for how things are going to turn out.

Saw X is now playing in movie theaters. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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