Spiral: From the Book of Saw is, unsurprisingly, the latest film in the Saw movie franchise. Instead of being a reboot, remake or direct sequel, Spiral is set within the same universe a number of years after the death of John Kramer. The brainchild of self-confessed Saw super fan Chris Rock, I had high hopes that the Saw franchise would finally be reinvigorated, however, instead I’m afraid it may have helped bury it.
The film starts with a cop chasing a bag snatcher through a Fourth of July celebration down into the dark and ominous sewers. Soon enough, he’s grabbed and drugged by a mysterious figure in a pig mask and on waking, finds himself suspended from the roof of a subway tunnel by a medieval contraption attached to his tongue. He’s stood unsteadily on a step ladder as a video plays of the pig mask-wearing assailant, who reveals the man is a detective. His crime is telling too many lies on the witness stand. He’s given a choice; step off the ladder, let the device rip out his tongue and survive, or be hit by the number 3 subway train in a matter of minutes. No surprises how that one turns out.
Enter Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) to investigate the case, alongside rookie William Schenk (Max Minghella). Despite his father Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson) being the previous Chief of Police, Zeke has a tarnished reputation in his precinct after turning in his bent partner 10 years ago for murdering a witness. After taking on the case Zeke starts to receive gruesome parcels from the killer, including videos that confirm that bent cops are being targeted. Over the course of the film, the killings escalate, with more and more cops dying in gruesome manners as Zeke, his father and colleagues race to find who they believe to be another Jigsaw copycat killer.
After the first couple of Saw films, the rest of the franchise got gradually more ridiculous and over the top, and you can see that Spiral is trying to change this and bring it to something more believable. However, it only partly succeeds. Spiral appears to be paying homage to Se7en, alongside the original Saw film itself, and it’s trying to be more of a gory detective thriller, but unfortunately, the clichéd plot, script and cinematography let it down. There is every police/detective cliché on offer here, alongside a very vague portrayal of policing in general. It isn’t helped by some rather mediocre basic looking traps, a final act plot twist that you can see coming a mile off and some incredibly questionable camera angles and shots that do the scenes no favours whatsoever.
The worst offenders however are the script and, surprisingly, the acting. Aside from a rather Tarantino-esque opener with Chris Rock’s character discussing Forrest Gump, the script is cringeworthy and full of yet more clichés. I had high hopes for Rock’s acting but if his performance in this is anything to go by, he should really stick to comedy. Even the ever-reliable Samuel L. Jackson is criminally underused.
As films in the Saw universe go, Spiral could’ve been worse. Deciding to be a standalone film set in a more detective thriller style was a smart move and it avoiding the convoluted pitfalls that the other sequels have fallen into. Had it been better executed this could’ve been brilliant, and while it is much better than all of the later Saw films put together, it still falls short of being memorable. I will admit to finding it vaguely enjoyable, even if critically it wasn’t very good. However, what is most worrying of all is that there’s a potential setup for a sequel.
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