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From the mid to late aughts, October horror was dominated by one word: Saw. In an impressive streak, the grisly franchise celebrated seven straight years with a new entry just in time for Halloween. Though sequels have been sporadic since the 2010 film Saw: The Final Chapter, this autumn brought another tale from Jigsaw’s world of twisted morality and the return of the legendary killer himself. Director Kevin Greutert’s story follows John Kramer (Tobin Bell) on a quest for revenge, but the film also features a fan favorite character and one of the saga’s first survivors. Set between the first and second franchise entries, Saw X sees the return of Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) as an assistant/disciple of the dying murderer. Though her position in Jigsaw’s army would later be usurped by others, Amanda remains the franchise’s most heartbreaking character and the greatest condemnation of Jigsaw’s sociopathy.
We first meet Amanda in Kramer’s most iconic trap. The frightened young woman wakes up with a heavy contraption attached to her face then listens as a mysterious recording spells out the rules to a deadly game. Once the trap has been activated, she has just 60 seconds to find a key that will unlock the device. Unfortunately this tiny piece of lifesaving metal is hidden in the intestines of a man lying next to her on the floor. While stabbing him with the pocket knife she’s been provided, Amanda realizes that the man is still alive and her frantic search through his midsection will result in his death. Amanda tears the man apart anyways and frees herself from the Reverse Bear Trap in the nick of time, becoming the only known survivor of Jigsaw’s games.
Convinced that Amanda is throwing her life away to heroin addiction, Kramer has targeted her for this hellish ordeal as an attempt to awaken her will to live. However, in order to survive, she must kill another addict–fighting for her own life by taking the life of another. Future films reveal that the man involved in her test is a fellow patient at a methadone clinic run by Kramer’s wife Jill (Betsy Russell). We hear Amanda’s story as detectives bring her in to help with their investigation. With bruises still visible at the corners of her mouth, this trembling woman remembers the details of a waking nightmare but when asked if she’s still using drugs, Amanda has a surprising answer. She says she is clean and insists that Jigsaw helped her overcome her addiction. While she may believe this to be true, most of her story will go on to prove the opposite.
The rest of the franchise will complicate this timeline, casting Amanda as both victim and villain, director and accomplice, but it’s important to keep this version of the character in mind. Amanda needs help, not violent life lessons. Enrolling in a methadone clinic shows that she has at least attempted to get clean, but Kramer has thrust her into his own violent rehab. He intends to confront her with a quick death that will put in perspective the slow hell she’s been putting herself through. Unfortunately, this is not how addiction works. Forcing someone to get clean may solve the immediate problem, but until underlying issues are addressed the addiction will return in one form or another. Amanda may be clean at the moment, but she has merely traded one vice for another.
Instead, John’s treatment of Amanda reveals more about himself. As we learn in the original film’s shocking climax, Kramer is dying from an inoperable brain tumor. Outraged that healthy people would treat their lives with casual abandon, he’s channeled the rage of his helplessness into a series of elaborate and often ironic ordeals designed to galvanize his victims into fighting for their lives. Jigsaw claims to abhor murder and tells himself that he is trying to help these sinners, reducing their lives to a vacuum of morality. But it’s nearly impossible to escape from one of Jigsaw’s traps without severe injury or death. Usually involving an impossible choice or bloody sacrifice, these games are clearly meant to be a punishment rather than a blessing.
Darren Lynn Bousman’s Saw II places Amanda inside a trap known as the Nerve Gas House, serving as a guide for those playing for the first time. However, we soon learn that she is a plant, sent in not only to suffer, but to make sure her fellow contestants abide by the rules. Extensive retcons and a shocking conclusion reveal that she has begun to work with Kramer as an accomplice and disciple, dedicating her life to testing others in similar games. When asked why she’s been targeted by the maniacal serial killer, Amanda shows bandages on her wrists and implies that she’s being punished for self-harm. These wounds may merely be part of the show, but detective Hoffman will shame her for this type of coping behavior in future films.
Along with the others in this deadly house, Amanda is also a victim of Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg)–the true target of the first sequel’s game. She did not have a substance abuse problem when Matthews framed her for possession, but she became addicted to heroin while incarcerated. With this test, Kramer has given her a chance to exact revenge. She shackles Eric in the infamous bathroom and leaves him to die. However, this moralistic vengeance does not seem to grant the relief she was expecting. Overcome with emotion, she suffers a breakdown outside of his would-be tomb. When Eric smashes his own foot to escape, the two engage in a brutal fight and Amanda finally kills the first man to ruin her life. Though Matthews will appear in future installments, Amanda believes she has caused his death, leading to a crisis of confidence as she begins to doubt Kramer’s methods.
Bousman’s Saw III begins with Amanda’s inescapable games. Removing the possibility of survival, her versions of Jigsaw’s traps torture her chosen victims with brutal violence and the false hope that they might be able to survive them to begin with. Kramer believes her methods amount to nothing more than murder, failing to see the parallels to his own actions.
As a part of the film’s major trap, Kramer and Amanda have kidnapped a doctor named Lynn (Bahar Soomekh) and demand she perform surgery to remove his tumor. As the ordeal wears on, Amanda proves to be an emotional wreck, bouncing between grief for her mentor, disdain for Lynn, and a generalized murderous rage. It seems the weight of all of this violence has taken a toll on the recovering addict. Without drugs to fall back on and no treatment for what is likely PTSD, she uses self-harm to numb the emotional pain and cuts into her thing with a large Bowie knife. At the test’s conclusion, Amanda refuses to release Lynn and reluctantly shoots her in the back. While she bleeds to death on the dirty floor (having been shot in retaliation), John reveals that he has been testing her all along, hoping to cure her of this destructive anger. True to form, future films will offer more insight.
We don’t know anything about Amanda before she met Detective Matthews, but Greutert’s Saw VI offers a glimpse into her life before becoming Kramer’s disciple. She and a fellow addict break into Jill’s methadone clinic while John waits outside. Hiding in the shadows, Amanda is present when this boyfriend accidentally strikes Jill’s pregnant belly while forcefully opening a door. This collision causes a miscarriage and eventually the dissolution of their marriage. John later takes revenge on the boyfriend but doesn’t seem to know about Amanda’s involvement. Unfortunately, rival accomplice Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) knows her secret and threatens to tell their leader if she doesn’t kill Lynn. Playing a game of his own, Hoffman has forced her into a no-win situation. Either she will fail John’s test and lose her life or break the heart of the man she’s come to see as a father.
Though Hoffman blames Amanda for the miscarriage, it’s worth noting that this tragic accident is not her fault. Not only did her companion not intend to harm Jill, but Amanda was not even a part of the collision. Yes, she may have convinced him to break into the clinic, but she had no way of knowing what would happen and likely would have been too sick from withdrawal to care. The only thing Hoffman would be revealing is the severity of her addiction, something John should already know. However, her choice to fail this test reveals the true motive behind John’s actions. Targeting people who have harmed him and his family, we see that these games are little more than revenge designed to dress up his anger as altruism.
Taking place at the peak of her apprenticeship, Saw X sees Amanda honing her skills by joining Kramer in a game to take down a group of medical scammers. Amanda forms a particular fondness for victim Gabriela (Renata Vaca), a young woman driven to take part in the lucrative con to feed her addiction. Though she passes her test, Gabriela suffers viscous radiation burns that would likely prove fatal enough if she weren’t immediately murdered by her nefarious boss. Just like Amanda, Kramer has placed this desperate girl in a dangerous situation and robbed her of the ability to seek treatment on her own terms. Even worse, he has roped Amanda into torturing another lost soul.
Saw X may fall between the first and second films chronologically, but Greutert gives Amanda a somewhat happy ending. She and her adopted father work together to save the life of a young boy who’s wandered into their deadly game then gift him with a life-changing amount of money. Having defeated the film’s biggest foe, the three survivors walk into the sunshine, the picture of a happy family, at least for now. Unfortunately we know what lies in store for Amanda. She’s been pulled into hell by a dying man with an ax to grind, but Greutert’s film places her in the eye of the storm. Given what the future holds for this troubled young woman, perhaps it’s best to remember her in this brief moment of peace.