Review: Saw X triumphs where The Exorcist: Believer disappoints

It's Friday the 13th in the middle of Halloween month so if there is any time to watch a horror movie this year, tonight is it.

Horror fans have a glut of options out there and Saw X and The Exorcist: Believer are among the in-cinema options as a pair of big studio reboots of highly successful franchises.

I'll share my thoughts on those below, but first a few other recommendations on what you could watch tonight, or on Halloween weekend itself in two weeks.

  • Talk to Me: The best horror movie of 2023 so far. It's still playing in a few select New Zealand cinemas as well as being available to buy or rent on Apple and Google.
  • The one to watch on Netflix: Hereditary
  • The one to watch on Neon: X
  • The one to watch on Shudder: Terrifier
  • The one to watch on Prime: The Rental
  • The one to watch on Disney Plus: Alien
Saw X neck wire trap.
Saw X does not skimp on the terrifying traps. Photo credit: Lionsgate

Saw X is easily one of the best films in this misunderstood series - maybe even the best.

The 2004 original was a hugely successful and has become a modern lynchpin of the horror genre. It was supremely intense and pulled some great narrative tricks, especially toward its end, while largely only teasing the nasty gore most people associate these movies with.

Since then, the franchise got ridiculously convoluted and bogged down in dreary mythology, while doubling down on the gore and sinister tone. It had a few highs among the many lows, but this tenth Saw has elevated it to a delightful new level.

A surprising amount of care was put into the filmmaking of Saw X with a level of effort not normally afforded a sequel this deep into a franchise. There is a long period of violence-free storytelling early on that builds genuine emotional stakes, meaningfully adds to the John Kramer aka Jigsaw character and makes things more morally interesting when the violence inevitably comes, as we're likely rooting for the villain more than ever before.

Then when the bad people are caught up in Jigsaw's horrific traps, it pushes the envelope to grisly new extremes sure to please the real gorehounds.

The final big twist isn't as shocking or clever as it could have been, but that aside this is a great horror and about as good as you could expect a Saw sequel to be.

Four stars.

The Exorcist: Believer promotional image.
The Exorcist: Believer features two possessed girls, not one. Photo credit: Universal Pictures

The Exorcist: Believer on the other hand is an enormous letdown.

Demonic possession has been done to death onscreen and no movie about an exorcism has ever gotten close to being as great as the original 1973 film, but David Gordon Green really did have a shot with this.

For the first two thirds of it, it looked like he was going to get there. It has an expertly crafted set-up that creates a great, unnerving sense of menace from normal everyday goings-on. Just the right amount of homage is paid to the original film - which this is a direct sequel to - but it also does interesting new stuff and modernizes the supernatural concepts well for today's much more secular audiences.

Then we get to the third act and the actual exorcism, and holy moly Believer is fumbles the ball as it approaches the finish line. It's disastrous.

It becomes weirdly dull, it's unwilling to do anything actually disturbing and all of the awesome table-setting conducted earlier ultimately amounts to a whole bunch of dissatisfaction.

A real shame given what this could have been.

Two stars.