Connect with us

Movie Reviews

Spiral: From the Book of Saw ★★★★



Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Cast: Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols and Samuel L. Jackson

Released: May 17th 2021 in UK Cinemas

There’s simply nothing more exciting than a successful comeback. The Saw franchise was a game-changing phenomenon back in the 2000s, spawning eight sequels, two videogames, and even a dedicated theme park ride for die-hard Saw fanatics. Upon reflection, its success is entirely logical: the ingenious mastermind Jigsaw shaped post-Abu Ghraib anxieties in the form of a twisted torture game, bringing to light the most blood-curdling form of terror in Bush-era horror cinema. In 2021, during a time when horror tends to confront reality in a much more personal and cerebral manner, along comes Spiral: a staggeringly old-fashioned story from the book of Saw that has more in common with 90s thriller cinema than the torture game antics of its predecessors.

This time, however, Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw and his infamous Billy the Puppet are decidedly absent from the narrative. Stepping into the gruesome spotlight is Chris Rock, whose concept for the film was reportedly so successful among Lionsgate execs that the company rushed the project into production instead of focusing on a different Jigsaw-centred story. In Spiral, Chris Rock plays Zeke Banks, a steadfast detective whose career goes awry after he chooses to turn in his partner following an incident of police brutality. Twelve years later, Zeke is an outsider amid the corrupt police department, still working in his father’s shadow, ex-chief Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson). Things are looking rather mundane until one day Zeke, and his new partner William Schenk (Max Minghella), discover a grisly crime scene – one that is suspiciously reminiscent of Jigsaw’s modus operandi, albeit this time the sadistic copycat is targeting corrupt cops from Zeke’s police department.

Saw has always been known for two things: intricate, twisty narratives that sprawl across multiple films and signature trap machinery designed to teach its victim a deadly lesson. On that front, Spiral firmly retains the classic Saw DNA, incorporating a startlingly fresh approach to the classic formula and bringing about a new, unexpectedly topical rationale behind the sick games. With Darren Lynn Bousman at the helm, the director of Saw II, III, and IV, the film manages to integrate some of the industrial nu-metal grime that was so prevalent in the classic instalments, meanwhile updating the overall aesthetic to match the clean grittiness of contemporary horror cinema. It’s certainly an inspired choice to reframe the focus of the franchise back to its whodunit roots, but Spiral does so without skimming on the gruesome fundamentals that made the sequels to the original film so successful: the traps are as inspired as ever, with the “opening trap” concept making its triumphant return in the form of a particularly nasty train sequence.

Admittedly, the film does feel almost like an anthology story within the Saw universe, rather than an ordinary sequel in the vein of 2017’s Jigsaw – hence the creative decision to use a subtitle as extravagant as From the Book of Saw. The gore is noticeably scaled back, the procedural aspect is at the focal point of the narrative, and Jigsaw’s four accomplices are nowhere to be found in this rather straightforward detective story. Frankly, the film often resembles the sleazy cop thrillers from the 90s, with Chris Rock gloriously churning out one-liners and connecting the dots from the killer’s macabre clues. It’s refreshing to see a franchise so hellbent on its lore finally embracing new mythology, let alone one with that much potential.

The one aspect where the film stumbles is, unfortunately, in its timid attempts to bring sociopolitical commentary into the mix. The Saw franchise is no stranger to political urgency, with the sixth instalment serving as a scathing critique of the healthcare crisis back in 2009. By comparison, Spiral’s less combative stance on police reform feels woefully tame and toothless, throwing out vital ideas but dancing around the fundamental issues that plague the American law enforcement. The potential is certainly there to address the subject matter in a more nuanced sequel, but it ultimately feels like a missed opportunity.

Spiral is exactly the kind of return to form the Saw fans have been clamouring for: a mix of classic and modern sensibilities, this new tale from the book of Saw injects a much-needed dose of fresh mythology into the morbid framework of trap-filled cat-and-mouse games. It’s brisk, mean, and functions as a thrilling entry point for franchise newcomers. This is one game you’ll surely want to play.

Just For You