'Spiral' Might Be the Worst 'Saw' We Ever Saw Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Samuel L. Jackson
Published May 14, 2021When Saw came out seventeen years ago, it was such a wild success that there were seven (!) Saw movies released between 2005 and 2017. With each new entry, the franchise built off of the first's formula for success: namely, flawed characters having to "play a game" with Jigsaw (that tricycle-riding clown), which is essentially getting murdered in a way that's supposed to resemble something close to poetic justice. The other staple was a twist, which, by Saw 3 or Saw 4, everyone could see coming a mile away. All these years later, and the team responsible for the very first Saw are back with Spiral: From the Book of Saw. And guess what? Despite all that time, they're back with more of the same.
The latest entry in the franchise follows detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), a veteran outcast of the police force who turned in his partner after he shot a witness about to testify against another cop twelve years ago. Now, Zeke is everything cop movie clichés want him to be: he plays by his own rules, he can't trust anyone, and he's going through a rough divorce because his heart belongs to his badge. Unfortunately for Zeke, he's been paired with a rookie detective (Max Minghella of The Handmaid's Tale) to investigate the murder of a cop, who, according to the new Jigsaw wannabe, was facing retribution for years spent lying under oath and puting innocent people in jail. As Zeke takes the case head-on, more cops are murdered, as Zeke tries to connect the dots between the victims and how they relate to his past.
There are more details to the story, but the characters and the narrative are all secondary to the franchise's trademarks. The characters and their past only exist to justify the newest iteration of torture porn the writers have concocted — and, of course, the twist that awaits viewers at the end. In most scenarios, indicating that there's a twist at all serves as a spoiler, but with the Saw franchise, it's what's expected, ultimately sapping whatever shock factor there would be otherwise. By this point, the only twist would be if there was no twist.
So, what's left to enjoy if the characters are two-dimensional, and the viewer is left waiting for the twist? The answer is nothing, really. There are so many scenes of Zeke's corrupt colleagues who find themselves trapped in these elaborate contraptions engineered to inflict pain in the grisliest and most revolting way. A statement on police brutality and corruption would be more welcome if it wasn't accompanied by images of mutilation, electrocution and amateur skin grafting.
There are so many negatives, and that's even before considering the performances of Rock and his supporting cast. Rock conveys his mistrust and disdain for those around him by grimacing in every situation; whether he's driving with his new partner, talking to another detective in the bullpen or arguing with his father, who happens to be the former police chief and played Samuel L. Jackson. Not even Jackson can salvage the few scenes he's in, because there's nothing for him, or the rest of the cast for that matter, to work with.
At this point, those who choose to watch Spiral: From the Book of Saw know what they're getting themselves into. This movie has been made eight times before and Sprial has the same cadence and rhythm as the rest of the franchise. There are going to be jump scares, torture devices, twists, and some creepy guy in a mask asking "Do you want to play a game"? Some may be intrigued, but would be wise to say, "No thanks." (Lionsgate)