Spiral: From the Book of Saw
Darren Lynn Bousman's Spiral is without a doubt "same old Saw", but with a fresh coat of paint. Star Chris Rock elevates the material to levels the series has never reached before. The kills are gory, sick and inventive, which more than makes up for the lacking twist ending. If this is Lionsgate's attempt at rebooting the franchise, then by all means, please continue!
Saw II – IV director Darren Lynn Bousman returns to the franchise after it has mostly remained dormant. This time, he teams with the writers responsible for the attempted revival known as Jigsaw, Peter Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, with an “idea” and leading role from Chris Rock, featured alongside the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and Max Minghella.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is blend a of familiar and fresh, bringing back the look, feel and overall story structure of a traditional Saw flick, only this time stepped up a notch with the likes of Rock and Jackson, not to mention years between previous installments and a never-ending craving for sick traps and twisted conclusions. Saw fans will no doubt find plenty to love in Spiral, while naysayers will likely pick this one apart and move onto the next one.
Det. Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) is thrown smack-dab in the middle of a series of mysterious deaths that all tie back to a potential Jigsaw copycat killer. John Kramer is long gone, but his legacy remains intact as a city full of corruption, drugs and death starts exposing its rotting foundation.
Zeke can’t trust a soul though, as he’s been labeled the department snitch after he turned in a dirty cop for killing a witness in cold blood. Even his own father Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson), a retired cop himself, can’t protect him from the effects of “betraying” your brothers in blue, which makes Spiral a twisty tale of lies and deception, wrapped up in barbwire and soaked in bloodshed as Zeke and his new partner William (Max Minghella) play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a killer hellbent on killing cops.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw might attempt to throw people off with its cryptic name and initial teaser trailer that tried almost hiding the fact that it’s a Saw movie by nature, but don’t let any of this marketing fool you — Spiral is a Saw movie at its core and that loyalty is likely why some series fans are turning their back on this one, because while it brings forth new characters and new scenarios, it’s essentially the same old thing, but with a major upgrade in acting.
Star Chris Rock brings a sense of seriousness to his role that makes for a believable cop struggling to find a psychopath. He also brings his trademark witty humor and honestly, it never has felt more appropriate. Rock’s ability to provide that back-and-forth banter with his partner and then dive into a gruesome investigation is much-needed and keeps the film’s weaker writing points mostly hidden.
Let’s be honest here, most of the Saw sequels after the first flick were cheesy and melodramatic, but usually packed inventive horror punches, not to mention some clever social commentary, that when merged with an intriguing twist ending, made for a mostly enjoyable experience for those looking for horror with brains.
I’m not going to say the Saw movies are without flaws, but I would be dismissing the entire series if I reduced them down to “torture porn” or mindless and overly-complicated for the sake of it. People that make these claims simply don’t understand the series.
The Saw movies are so popular because people enjoy the thought that went into the writing and of course the bloody and crazy creative traps that almost always led to death and a morality check.
Spiral brings back the bag of tricks, only this time with time and nostalgia between it and the last “real” Saw entry, which was the fun, but damn laughable, Saw 3D.
Writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger struggle with landing the ending, because it feels so predictable and novice for the avid Saw fan. Perhaps a causal movie-goer will be impressed with how they tie things together, but I saw it coming a mile away and was honestly disappointed with how uninspired it felt.
But everything before it was aces and I mean that with some high praise.
Samuel L. Jackson plays Rock’s retired from the force dad with just enough hard ass paranoia to make you want to see more of. He works well with Rock and honestly plays a big part in the elevation of this Saw compared to some of the series’ later entries.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman shows not an ounce of fat on him as he wields the camera with the traditional quick-cuts and panning that the Saw films are known for. The scene transitions don’t feel nearly as creative or as impactful, but he doesn’t stray away from giving you the gore by the buckets.
The pacing of Spiral is an improvement over the last few films, quickly moving from one set piece to the next, engaging with the characters just enough to give you a sense of who they are and what they are potentially up to, before another death forces them to jump to action — this sense of confusion and urgency helps cover up the film’s weaker reveals and lack of real surprises.
I can understand series fans expressing disappointment with Spiral, because it doesn’t really steer the franchise into a new direction, instead revisiting old plot points, only this time with new faces. But for me, that blend of familiar, yet retooled, presents Spiral as a soft reboot that can make way for future films without stepping on everything before it and without having to remake and ditch the mythos that made these films so awesome.
Spiral also sheds the weight of clinging onto past characters, despite their complicated involvement that is becoming a crutch at this point. It’s nice seeing the series establish new characters that can make way for new stories that might resemble previous installments, but hopefully start to branch out on their own with enough time and success.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is Saw 1.5. It leans on a familiar plot to introduce new characters and throw a fresh coat of paint on a series that we thought was dead and buried. Fans of the series are going to go nuts when Charlie Clouser‘s Saw theme comes blaring out of the speakers, despite the script’s inability to throw you for a curveball like the first film so expertly did all the way back in 2004. I welcome this new entry and hope that there’s more to come, because this new assembled gang of players are interesting, conflicted and ready to play a game!