Spiral: From The Book Of Saw
US (2021) Dir. Darren Lynn Bousman
Just when you thought it was safe… After seven films we all thought the SAW franchise ended in 2010 until The Spierig Brothers revived it with Jigsaw in 2017. It seemed there as renewed interest created by this addendum and you know what Hollywood is like.
Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock) is fresh off a stint working undercover to bring in a criminal gang returns to the office where he is persona non grata for grassing up a colleague who killed an innocent man. Zeke’s superior Captain Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols) feels he needs to reintegrate with the team and pairs him with rookie Detective William Schenk (Max Minghella) to investigate a suspicious death.
The victim was a fellow cop and close friend of Zeke’s, who had been hoisted up in a trap then hit by an underground train. Shortly after, Zeke receives a USB stick with a video of a red painted spiral and a pig puppet with a voice over warning Zeke and the police they need to admit to their sins or incur more deaths. Zeke notices the killer has patterned himself on the late serial killer Jigsaw. Can Zeke and the team find him before they are all dead?
Whilst the whole point of this film is for us to figure out who is behind these grisly crimes and why, I am sure many viewers will actually be wondering “Do we really need a reboot adjunct to the SAW series?” Opinion will assuredly differ, although “perhaps not” might be the most popular answer (or a resolute “No” from the truly cynical), and this is indeed valid, but it should be noted that Spiral is valiant attempt to convince us otherwise.
By the same token, it also suffers from being the illegitimate child of the SAW franchise, which, like it or not, did set a high bar for inventiveness with its torturous contraptions and grisly visuals, even if it did run a bit long. One might argue it did beget the “torture porn” genre, overlooking the fact the stories did have clever twists and were based on provocative moral dilemmas.
Retaining the same producers, along with former SAW writers and directors as executive producers (as well as star Chris Rock), Spiral’s pedigree is not entirely specious, despite this leaving us feeling maybe lightning doesn’t strike twice after all. Part of the issue is that the justice meted out by this new antagonist doesn’t do anything new other than exclusively target police, though the moral motives remain the same.
Over the course of 91 minutes, police officers past and present are killed off one by one and the one thing they have in common is Zeke. The first was lured into an underground tunnel and trussed up by his tongue, with the option to let his body drop and lose his tongue to survive or be hit by a train. This was significant because the cop was noted for lying in trials.
Further flashbacks reveal how another partner shot a witness who was willing to testify against a police officer killing a man, again lying to Zeke about how the witness drew a gun on him. Zeke’s unpopularity was related to his testimony against his ex-partner, manifest in a third cop dying because he didn’t respond to Zeke’s call for back up which resulted in Zeke being shot.
Also held against Zeke was the fact his father was respected police chief Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), now retired, and we know nepotism is always frowned upon. The killer, whose puppet representative is a pig, isn’t targeting Zeke directly but the officers around him, leaving the endgame less of a foregone conclusion than we might suspect at first, but if Zeke isn’t the target then why do this?
Clearly, the script was designed to be a commentary on police corruption, something SAW featured at various points, although the attack here is pretty blunt. At every crime scene and in every package sent to Zeke a pig’s head or carcass is present, which I suppose saves time deciphering the killer’s opinion of the police no matter how lacking in subtlety it is.
Quite notably, this film’s release was delayed by COVID – had it come out in 2020 as schedule, it would have been during the fall out of the George Floyd scandal. It doesn’t matter that the protagonist here is a black cop – though some may say as the only one who isn’t corrupt he escapes censure – police cover ups of the killing of innocent people being a red hot topic may have stoked some flames it didn’t intend to.
If we don’t compare this to the SAW films, the deadly traps are inventive in their own way, with only a hint of being a Jigsaw tribute act; if you do want to compare them, their impact will be negligible, aside perhaps from the final one. There is a crucial setback for the villain however – his voice on the recordings is not in the least bit threatening. Unlike Tobin Bell’s raspy, mellifluous tones, this chap uses what sounds like a child’s toy voice simulator, sounding as sinister as the speaking clock!
Moving away from comedy, Chris Rock isn’t too bad as Zeke, making a decent stab at straight acting whilst retaining some of his motor mouth energy. However, because he and Samuel L. Jackson are in the cast, it seems like the script being 90% “f” words and people calling each other “MF” was written especially for them. On the plus side, the effect were good and returning SAW fans will enjoy the gore.
Ending abruptly on an open note, the door is left open for a follow up, strongly implying the faith in Spiral: From The Book Of Saw to resurrect the franchise is high. It’s a decent film with a story that could have worked without the SAW influence/gimmick but maybe not the series defibrillator it aspires to be.