*This is a spoiler-free review.*
When the first Saw movie was released in 2004, it turned out to be a game-changer (no pun intended), by turning gore into something more mainstream and adding the infamous narrative twist into each film in the franchise, to try to outsmart audiences. Victims would wake up in a deadly trap, and be given a hint to what they must do in order to survive, even if survival doesn’t mean escaping unscathed by the ordeal.
Sometimes, it can be something simple as sawing off your own foot, while other times, it’s digging into the body of your presumed dead friend. There are a hundred and one ways you can get trapped, but only one way of escaping it but after eight movies, the concept grew tiresome, though the ninth edition, Spiral: From the Book of Saw is looking to torture audiences once again.
For those who need a crash course, the original killer Jigsaw aka John Kramer actually died in Saw III, though the mastermind slash social justice sadist slash puppeteer’s designer torture MO was kept alive by proteges who took over his reigns in subsequent sequels. This time, Spiral maintain’s Kramer’s legacy by presenting a copycat who is out for Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock) and his police department. This isn’t the first time a law enforcer is on the receiving end of Jigsaw’s traps, but it certainly is the first time an entire department is being targeted.
As the bodies of police officers and detectives pile, Zeke finds himself going into a spiral as he tries to save his colleagues, while attempting to catch the killer as well. Desperate for help, he enlists the help of his father, Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), who is also a former Chief at Zeke’s department. Together with Zeke’s partner, Williams (Max Minghella), the two go on a wild goose chase, following Jigsaw’s cookie crumb clues. That said, Spiral’s approach is different from previous movies, in that this installment is more reminiscent of movies like Seven, where it leans towards a noir detective mystery story rather than a horror… up until you get to the gory bits.
Rated R21, you already know that Spiral is going to be a gruesome bloodfest. Director Darren Lynn Bousman is no stranger to the franchise, having worked on four of the Saw movies before, so it is obvious that he knows what he’s doing. From close up shots of limbs tearing apart, blood trickling down severed body parts and inner organs exploding in mid air, Spiral is bound to make you squirm in your seat – and this is coming from someone who’s favourite childhood pastime is watching traumatising gory movies.
With new contraptions that seem impossible to win (we’re talking Kramer’s protege Amanda Young style of traps), it also becomes increasingly clear that the copycat killer has a deep personal motive and has no intentions of giving the victims a chance at survival. The movie hints at a number of suspects who could be the Jigsaw copycat, but of course, viewers won’t find out who the killer is until the end of the movie.
That said, Spiral is successful in building the suspense and in delivering gory scenes that are both disturbing and satisfying for fans of the genre. However, there are certain things that could be improve, and depending on how observant you are, and how many hours of your life you’ve spent watching movies similar to Saw and Spiral, the killer’s identity becomes easy to figure out.
Having figured out who the killer was within the first 40 minutes of the movie, Spiral lost its noir mystery trait that makes it unique. Nonetheless, stick around for the gore – which honestly, we wish there was more.
Previous Saw movies, such as Saw VII, had a whopping 22 deaths, but Spiral only has a third of that. Admittedly, the quality and story building around these deaths is much stronger but whether or not you leave the cinema satisfied is dependent on your expectations of the movie.
Although we found each death satisfying and gruesome, it didn’t leave much of an impact. What fans can appreciate though is that Spiral includes traps that are iconic to the franchise, and some come with modified upgrades to dial up the pain and suffering. It’s the little nods that make this spin-off film, or possibly even franchise, enjoyable for fans of the original.
In Saw fashion, every victim is selected for a reason too. With each killing, audiences learn together with Zeke about the corruption and abuse of power that police officers enact on citizens. Whilst the horrors in this movie rely on the gory and gruesome ways each victim dies, the real horror is that police brutality exists in real life, and in our society today.
From a social justice point of view, Spiral attempts to shed light on police brutality and to an extent, is a testament that all cops are bastards whether or not they have a moral compass. Being part of a corrupted institution is a problem in itself, and Zeke is only just learning about how dirty things can get even if he is the only one that upholds the “right” values.
While comedian Chris Rock hangs up the jokes and goes all serious, delivering a somewhat impressive job as spiraling Detective Zeke, one can’t help but always expect him to drop the facade, to deliver a punchline. Whilst some may be apprehensive about how his recognisable cartoon-like voice will fit into the horror genre, the 56 year old stand up comedian proves that he can also perform in serious roles.
Whilst Rock appears more natural delivering snide remarks and mean comments than throwing punches, we’re not entirely sold that he is believable in serious roles, even if it’s obvious that Rock takes his role and this new career venture very seriously. From his angry facial expressions to his exasperated screams, Rock shows off a range of abilities we didn’t see in his past movies.
Also serving as one of the movie’s executive producers, it is clear Rock’s Spiral serves as a fan’s ode to the original franchise, while opening a new chapter from the book of Saw. Samuel L. Jackson continues holding the title of busiest actor ever by appearing in this, though for playing a father and son duo that share the same job, there isn’t much chemistry between Marcus and Zeke. Much of Jackson’s scenes are beating up his subordinates and yelling angrily to the wind, which if you’ve seen Snakes on a Plane, you’ll know that he’s pretty convincing even if it’s nothing new.
Spiral is a fair attempt at developing a spin-off that is able to branch out from the original franchise, to present something new and compelling whilst keeping main essences core to the story. Leaving space for a potential sequel, Spiral allows long-time fans to experience similar concepts to the beloved Saw movies in an engaging noir detective approach that isn’t straight-up blood and gore. It may not be the strongest movie to have come out of the Saw series, but it’s enjoyable enough to keep you invested for the full 93 minutes.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Spiral plays a dangerous game between setting out to do something different and keeping in line with the beloved Saw franchise. Love it or hate it there’s one thing you can’t deny – Spiral will make you cringe and make you squirm every single time someone dies.
Story - 6/10
Direction - 7/10
Characterisation - 6/10
Geek Satisfaction - 7/10