When James Wan, (the brains behind all those spooky Conjuring films) made his directorial debut with Saw in 2004, no one could have imagined a tale of a twisted serial killer, John Kramer, devising elaborate traps for his victims, would be going strong almost 20 years later.
Kevin Greutert, who has been associated with all the Saw films either as editor or director and is helming the latest, Saw X, attributes the franchise’s success to luck and commitment. Speaking over a video call from Los Angeles, the 58-year-old says, “Many of us were first-timers, James Wan, Leigh Whannell (story), Darren Bousman (director)… This was our chance to make a splash to start our careers. It attracted a lot of passion for that reason. I am glad I am still able to work on it, and that I still have that passion for it.”
Production designer, Anthony Stabley, chips in from Colorado, “There is always a choice in the Saw movies. You have to sacrifice something of yourself, to live, to move forward, to survive.” Every person on the planet, Stabley says, is intrigued by this concept of survival. “How would we move forward, how would I handle the situation? Every person in the audience for every Saw movie is wondering ‘Oh my god, could I do this? Could I survive this trap? These traps are fascinating to the audience.”
Saw X is set in Mexico, which was serendipitous, according to Greutert. “The script was written to take place in a foreign country. And originally it was Czechoslovakia. We started to think of Mexico because it’s closer to home.” Greutert says he was excited by the prospect of Mexico. “Anthony speaks very good Spanish. So it worked out nicely.”
Kramer (played by Tobin Bell) being a fish out of water adds tension to the film, Stabley says. “For John to be so desperate that he travels to Mexico for a cancer cure is intense. The audience will be wondering are these people here to help John? Is something else going on?”
The history in Mexico City played its part, says Greutert. “I’ve always been fascinated by the Aztecs and their human sacrifice rituals. It just seemed like that dark history fits in with the vibe of our movie, right (laughs)? The fact that the ruins of the Aztec empire are right there in the center of the city and we were able to mention that, sets the tone.”
The Saw franchise, Greutert says is almost like a TV show in its intricacy. “I’ve always liked intricate plotlines and stories in novels and movies. We didn’t necessarily know when we made Saw that there would be Saw II or what it would be like. It was the same with every subsequent sequel. It was exciting to try and think about ways to refer to the previous films and make it seem like all 10 of these movies were conceived in one giant brainstorming session back in 2003. It wasn’t, but I wanted it to feel that way. I think it does and that’s pretty cool.”
Saw X takes place between Saw and Saw II (2005). The challenge, Greutert says was to make each film seem fresh, while also giving the audience what they want. “It was a tough balancing act. It was important to me to make a film that anybody could walk into and understand and enjoy while still delivering details to the longtime fans that they’ll like. I try not to do anything that would make the general viewer confused or think, ‘I don’t understand this, because I didn’t see the previous films’.”
They walk among us
Serial killers are effective movie monsters, Greutert says, because they are often real. “Serial killers do stalk the earth, vampires don’t. It’s a grounded apprehension that everybody feels about human predators. That said, John Kramer is not a typical serial killer, but you still don’t want to get kidnapped by him (laughs).”
The thought that your neighbor or somebody down the street, could be a serial killer is what thrills us, Stabley says. “There’s the beauty of light and its opposing darkness, which ensures balance in life. When we hear about serial killers, we’re fascinated and wonder what makes this person tick? We’re often asking, what makes John Kramer tick?”
There are moral consequences in Kramer’s world, says Stabley. “He has his set of rules. When people watch Saw X, they’ll clearly see, this happened to John, and this is the way he reacted.”
Stabley says his duties as production designer were two fold. “I was the production designer for the movie as well as the traps, which are almost like another character in the movie. I was working very, very late at night (laughs). I’m just so fortunate that I was able to collaborate with Kevin because he told me what was needed and what was not. Fortunately, this was my sixth film in Mexico City, and I have such a fantastic team.”
“Anthony did a great job,” says Greutert. “We wouldn’t have had Saw X if it weren’t for his hard work.”
Lionsgate and PVRINOX Pictures bring Saw X to theatres on September 28.