Spiral: From the Book of Saw Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Lionsgate
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by Josh Stolberg, Pete Goldfinger
2021, 93 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
Released on May 17th 2021
Chris Rock as Detective Zeke Banks
Max Minghella as Detective Willam Schenk
Samuel L. Jackson as Marcus Banks
Marisol Nichols as Captain Angie Garza
Jigsaw always had a thing for cops. From Danny Glover’s Detective Tapp to the parade of unfortunate police officers and FBI agents that followed, there was clearly something about cops that marked them out as ideal participants for his games. And it’s this thinking that informs Darren Lynn Bousman’s Spiral. Someone is killing cops, kidnapping them and forcing them to play with the remnants of Jigsaw’s toy box. Detective Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Banks (Chris Rock) is on the case… and he has plenty to say about it.
Spiral may be a showcase for Rock’s dramatic talents, but that doesn’t put him off the comedy monologues, riffing on everything from marriage to Forrest Gump. Rock doesn’t lack intensity, but the role is all cliche, left over from cop movies of the 90s. There’s even a heatwave, a nerdy new partner, and an angry captain shouting the odds. It’s less of a Saw movie, more Predator 2.
Current events being what they are, there’s never been a better time for a film about a serial killer taking on a precinct full of crooked cops. But those hoping to see Saw refashioned into a topical horror thriller may be disappointed. Its observations are as surface level as ever. Bousman, Stolberg and Goldfinger shy away from anything that’s too damning of the force – and certainly any overt racial overtones. Saw VI’s attack on the life insurance industry was more biting than this.
But a Saw film is only as good as its traps, and these are some of the weakest yet. There’s no depth, intricacy, or creativity to any of them. They’re lazy imitations of Jigsaw traps, lacking any understanding of what made the maestro really tick. ‘What if Jigsaw was a cynical hack?’ is a question the franchise has asked many times, but it’s never quite clear whose fault it is when the traps suck. Just who is being lazy here? Is it the writers, the creative department, or the killer himself?
Nor does the film quite nail the structure of a Saw movie. Detective Banks wanders from crime scene to crime scene, grimly inspecting the aftermath, never really uncovering anything that the killer doesn’t want him to. It lacks both the overarching game narrative and sense of urgency that typically make a Saw film a Saw film. Banks, his partner (Max Minghella) and his father (Samuel L. Jackson) are engaging characters, but everyone else is an ill-defined and lazy archetype. Even the gender-flipped shouty police captain is still just a shouty police captain. It’s easy to work out who the killer is when only a handful of characters get any real screen time or development. Rock has good chemistry with his co-stars, so it’s disappointing that he should get so little time with Minghella or Jackson. The latter is particularly underutilised, in what is essentially a glorified cameo. It’s Samuel L. Jackon in a Saw movie! And he barely gets to do anything!
But at least the film looks the part. Utilising dimly lit offices, dimly lit warehouses and dimly lit apartments, it certainly looks and feels like a Saw movie. While lacking in invention, the traps are plenty gnarly, and the death sequences suitably grisly. There’s even a re-jigged version of the ‘Hello Zepp’ theme (in this case, it’s ‘Hello Zeke’) to play over the finale and closing credits.
All of which makes it harder to take Spiral on its own terms. It’s less beholden to the previous movies than 2017’s Jigsaw, but any effort to move on from Jigsaw and John Kramer is undermined by an overreliance on old tricks and tics. Spiral has a strong cast and some good ideas, but struggles to say anything new or interesting about any of it. This is just a franchise going around in circles.
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