John Kramer (Tobin Bell) is back. Saw X is the most chilling instalment of the Saw franchise yet explores the untold chapter of Jigsaw’s most personal game. Set between the events of Saw I and II, a sick and desperate John travels to Mexico for a risky and experimental medical procedure in hopes of a miracle cure for his cancer – only to discover the entire operation is a scam to defraud the most vulnerable. Armed with a newfound purpose, John returns to his work, turning the tables on the con artists in his signature visceral way through a series of ingenious and terrifying traps.
As a lifelong Saw fan, I couldn’t wait to sit down with director Kevin Gruetert (Saw VI and Saw VII) and production designer Anthony Stabley (T2: Judgement Day) about how their collaboration in creating the infamous Jigsaw traps, and the one gory scene that cause Anthony to sign on to the film immediately!
Nick: Kevin, Anthony, it’s a pleasure to meet you both. I’m a lifelong Saw fan, so I have a thousand questions for you both today!
Kevin Gruetert: Let’s do it!
Anthony Stabley: Awesome!
Nick: I’ll start with you Kevin, as you are returning to the franchise as a director once again. What was the thing that drew you back into this world with Saw X?
Kevin Gruetert: Yeah, sure. I mean, what really drew me in was the script. You know, I heard about it back when we made Jigsaw back in 2017. I heard about it and I didn’t really know what they [screenwriters on Jigsaw and Saw X, Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger] were going for. It didn’t grab me.
But then when I actually read the script last year, I was hooked immediately. I had already been thinking that if we were going to do another movie, we have to really invest in the John Kramer character, and we really have to figure out how to make it understandable and inviting to general audiences. And it just did that so perfectly. There was no way I was going to walk away.
Nick: Was there anything you took away from your experience directing Saw VI and Saw VI that you were able to bring to Saw X? It’s been a couple of years since those films!
Kevin Gruetert: I learnt so much working on all the other films and learning what I liked most about the other parts that I didn’t think were as effective. I was able to really just hone in on those really well.
And we shot a lot of coverage so that I had a lot of options when I edited the film. Knowing the way to shoot the movie was definitely the result of a lot of experience in other films too, but particularly Saw.
Nick: If I’m not mistaken Anthony, this is your first venture into the Saw franchise. And obviously Saw is famous for its traps, but also its unique visual aesthetic. I’m really interested to find out how you found the balance of honouring Saw, but also bringing your own style as a production designer to this film?
Anthony Stabley: Yeah, I think first of all, our film takes place between Saw and Saw II, so we wanted to make sure that we were in that family of films as far as the way the traps look, with the oxidised metal and such. The other part is that we wanted to be true to John Kramer and we wanted to make sure the audience feels that these are traps that he could construct and put together.
The other part is that we are in this factor, and we’re also in Mexico. So, we wanted to pull from that visually, and incorporate that into the traps. So, you see things that are very mechanical, that are part of the Saw legacy, or the Saw history, but also some components that are a part of Mexican culture. I think you’re going to see a little bit of both, and that was our goal, and that’s what we did. I’m very proud of our end product.
Nick: While we are talking about the traps, I’d love to know a little more about the process and evolution of the traps. When the script comes in, and those ideas are on the page, what do the conversations between you both look like when you have to take that written word, make a conceptual design, and then actually have it there physically on set?
Kevin Gruetert: Well, it of course starts with the script. In some of the past Saw movies, a lot of the development was actually done after the script was written. In some cases, like Saw VI, the steam room trap didn’t even exist on paper at all. And there were some scenes… Anthony, I can’t remember when you came on board with this one, but the final action sequence was conceptually completely different than what we shot.
Anthony Stabley: Yeah, there were a couple of different things. When we tested traps, and we look at the logistics of working with the actors, some things can be problematic for the stunt department! So, we sort of simplify things. We certainly did that with Gabirella, you know the scene with the…
Nick: Oh, yeah. That trap is a good one!
Anthony Stabley: There’s some stuff there that we had to work out. And you know, it’s a matter of taste. Kevin and I have similar tastes. Same with Nick [Matthews], our DP. We were all on the same page. We constantly ask each other do we like it? Is that going to come across or is the audience going to buy that? Then we make those decisions. Sometimes, it’s just a little napkins drawing that gets flushed out into a concept drawing, and then we start building and constructing.
I can tell this, it’s not a spoiler, but it’s a little add on. We had a trap at the beginning of this process that we ended up not using. I spent so much time on that trap! Oh my god! The shell of it is actually in the film, but we didn’t end up using it.
Kevin Gruetert: We had to use it somewhere! It’s a long story! But that’s so funny, because one of the things that’s also complicated is that there are a lot of things that happen in the same room right. So, it was very hard to think through the continuity. If this happens here, then it’s going to influence this over here.
There were significant scenes that take place in the same environment that we had to shoot before we’d even done all the set dressing. So, we had to hope that shots would match when we shoot the other side of it all. And of course, the movie makes a big mess as it goes along, and it gets worse and worse. It’s very hard to track all that stuff!
Anthony Stabley: I just want to say, I made a book called ‘The Book of Blood’. And so the book would show you where the blood was for this scene, for this trap. We were trying to not have issues with continuity, but there was just so much blood, and we even had a blood cleaning team. It was great!
Nick: Imagine putting ‘blood cleaning team’ on your resume! You both brought up the ‘mess’ that this movie makes. And there is one moment in particular that I don’t want to spoil, so I’ll keep it vague. But, I want to gauge what your reactions were when you read the “rope” scene in the script? Because I couldn’t believe it when I saw it!
Anthony Stabley: Kevin was already on board for the movie, and I was sent the script. And I’m in my dining room in Colorado, and I’m reading the scene, and I said out loud, to the whole house: “OH MY GOD!”
Then I just started reading more and more. There was a moment, like, five pages later, where I just stopped and I got on the phone and called the line producer who wanted me to have a meeting with Kevin. And I just said that I’m doing the movie. I want to do this movie! This is insane.
It felt like it was going to be a historic scene that the horror community are all going to talk about. And there are a lot of scenes like that in this film, and surprises that weren’t in the trailer. We actually spoke with Nick, our DP, about whether there was too much in the trailer. But there are still a lot of surprises in there!
Kevin Gruetert: You know, that scene you’re talking about is a really good example of – and I can only speak about it in a roundabout way because of spoilers – but it’s an example of how the audience can never really guess the thought process that has to go into the movie as a whole. Because that scene is sort of a small, throwaway moment, but it has a huge influence on the geography of that location.
There are these four pillars in that scene that are part of the real environment. We couldn’t just move them for convenience. And so a huge amount of thinking had to go into that scene, and in my case, overthinking because I thought it was going to be much harder to shoot it! But we got it in two takes! Both takes worked perfectly! I guess that’s the value of planning!
Nick: I really appreciate you both taking the time to chat with me today. Like I said, I’m a lifelong Saw fan, so this has been really awesome for me. Thank you both so much, and I can’t wait to see this movie with a crowd!
Anthony Stabley: Thank you, man!
Kevin Gruetert: Please let us know what the crowd is like! Get back to us on that!
Nick: I definitely will!
Thank you to Kevin Gruetert and Anthony Stabley for their time, and to StudioCanal for organising our chat! Saw X is in Australian cinemas September 28.
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