Synopsis – A criminal mastermind unleashes a twisted form of justice in Spiral, the terrifying new chapter from the book of Saw.
My Take – Like most horror franchises, released in 2004, James Wan‘s feature directorial debut and Leigh Whannell‘s feature writing and acting debut, was originally intended to be a standalone, but following its massive success it turned into strangely enduring multiple sequel horror franchise, which appeared in cinemas every Halloween for seven consecutive years reaping in very profitable results (current gross over $1 billion collectively, in comparison to its less than $100 million budget).
With its focus on displaying its torture devices and an intriguing mystery underlining every installment, the Tobin Bell portrayed serial killer, Jigsaw, turned into a cultural sensation, especially for his iconic lines, games and warped sense of actually being the good guy in the most twisted sense.
However, with every entry the mythology got more and more complicated, losing its essence along the way, resulting in a disappointing series finale in the form of the seventh film, Saw 3D (2010), with further dismaying results seen in the mostly forgotten Jigsaw (2017).
That is until comedian Chris Rock surprisingly gave life back to the franchise, with a story line that acts as ninth installment but takes place long after Jigsaw’s death, in the same city where he did his killing, adds a subtitle ‘From the Book of Saw’, yet doesn’t share any of its characters, motives, and histories with the franchise.
Surprisingly the resulting film is quite varied from one could have expected. While it does move in a different direction, more on the lines of a Se7en-styled police thriller, immediately making it an improvement over the last few Saw films, however, by the end it still succumbs to a familiar formula leaving it thoroughly inconsistent. Much of that can be laid at the feet of director Darren Lynn Bousman, who returns to the series after directing Saws II, III and IV, along with screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger who scripted 2017’s bland soft- reboot, upping the style factor but not much else.
Unlike most who appreciated the increasing gore and violent traps, personally, I became a fan of the franchise for its fascinating thriller aspects and shocking reveals at the end. But here the ending is surprisingly very rushed and predictable, hereby undoing all good will the film earned right until the final act.
Simply told, followers of the franchise will be pleased by this new chapter, as at least half of the film is a pure-strain Saw sequel, for all the good and ill that engenders, however, I don’t see this one winning any new intended fans out there.
Set years after Jigsaw’s terrifying reign ended, this new story follows Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock), a detective, who following the failing of his recent undercover case, mainly due to his inability to being a team player, is assigned a new rookie partner named William Schenk (Max Minghella) by Capt. Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols), despite his insistence to work alone. Years ago, Zeke ended up testified against a fellow officer for murdering a witness, resulting in him being tagged a snitch by the entire department, who till date consistently give him flak and display their disapproval of him.
It also does not help that Zeke has to battle with the image of his father, Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), the department’s rather highly respected former chief. However, he is forced to keep all prejudice aside when Zeke and William are called out to the crime scene which saw the gruesome murder of Detective Marv Bozwick (Dan Petronijevic), a friend of Zeke, with various similarities to deceased Jigsaw Killer’s methodology. Soon a recording follows announcing the arrival of a copycat, who is targeting anyone with badge, hereby beginning a game of chaos and murders with Zeke at the center of it all.
There are the occasional moments of brilliance in the film that make this ninth installment entirely pleasurable. To its credit, as the film’s setup and the general mysteries that are introduced, it elevates itself, particularly in the first half, feeling less like a Saw film with every minute it gives more to the thriller aspect, something that has been lacking in some of the previous films. Plus a brighter, more vibrant color palette than the previous installments and the flashy cinematography injects a gritty undertone to the visual aesthetic.
That is until half way through, director Darren Lynn Bousman can’t quite decide if it wants to completely reinvent this franchise or just play to the same old formula, and seemingly attempts to do both at the same time and achieving very little in the process. Like its predecessors, this one too works with a message behind its mayhem.
Taking in the timely discussion of the police as a systemic institution and whether it can be reformed. While the film does well by both those who want to contemplate its dilemmas, and those who just want to plunge straight into the nightmare, it complicates by expanding on the theory of picking out the rotten one from the bunch only.
What still works, though, are the traps, and for all of the weaknesses of Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger’s script, the film remains tense when it comes to the inventive trap set pieces. The film opens with a well-documented snitch literally tongue-tied to the train tracks, left to either rip off his own tongue or die. There are traps that pull fingers, sever spines, and pour hot wax over a victim’s face. One trap features a literal glass cannon, as a chained man must endure shards of broken glass fired at him from a glass crusher. But if you loved the previous chapters that featured a good dozen deaths, you may be disappointed with the relatively low body count here.
But what disappointed me the most was finding the big reveal to be very predictable, as anyone could guess who the killer is by the halfway point, leaving you in doubt about many of its highly questionable plot points.
Without a doubt, Chris Rock is an unexpected casting choice, but to the actor’s credit, I thought, for the most part, he did an incredible job with only a couple of moments that felt weak or did not quite deliver. His dramatic work here is passionate and fits well with the overall tone. Max Minghella and Marisol Nichols are likewise in tune with the material, as is the rest of the cast. Though, Samuel L. Jackson has a relatively smaller role, he makes for a great ingredient to the horror series, bringing his usual swag and sharing a fun believable relationship with Rock. On the whole, ‘Spiral’ is an inconsistent yet very watchable horror thriller that relies too heavily on its established formula.
Directed – Darren Lynn Bousman
Rated – R
Run Time – 93 minutes