Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Notable Cast: Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols
Every long-lasting franchise has to have its ups and downs. It’s just like life. Always a bit of a roller coaster, ya know? For the Saw franchise, diminishing returns for the sixth and seventh entries spelled a bit of doom for the initial run, but you can’t keep a good horror series down. While the eighth film, Jigsaw, did well box office wise relatively negative feedback from critics and fans ended that attempted kickstarter quickly. Enough that it sent the franchise into hibernation for a little while at least. That is until Chris Rock.
Did anyone have Chris Rock on their Saw bingo card as the man who would try to reboot the long-lasting and iconic franchise?
Nonetheless, this leads to the ninth film in the series, Spiral: From the Book of Saw. The marketing featured strong vibing close to a Saw meets Se7en tone, while fantastic trailers and posters made the hype for this almost undeniable. Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, director Darren Lynn Bousman, and other factors simply worked in building expectations up to a fever pitch in horror circles. Yet, the strange thing about Spiral is that, for better or worse, it’s simply another Saw film and not the new and improved chapter that so much of its marketing leaned on.
Spiral focuses on a ‘too honest for his own good’ cop, played with wildly mixed results from an either too serious or not serious enough Chris Rock, as he is chosen by a brand-new Jigsaw copycat killer. However, this new killer is targeting police officers that lead Rock’s Detective Banks towards a larger corruption in the force that may or may not include his now retired ex-police chief father, played by Jackson.
For fans of the series, the return to baseline form for this film is a welcome comfort. This latest reboot, similar to the last one, is hardly reinventing the wheel. It adheres to the expectations with almost brutal precision. Twisting plots, creepy dolls, horrifying traps, and plenty of questionable moral lessons taken to new extremes are all present and accounted for - to a somewhat disappointing degree. Spiral represents a moment for the franchise to truly reinvent itself in some clever way but never takes the leap. Its new plot and characters, which allow it to fringe on some hot button topics like current social anxieties tied to racism, police brutality, and corruption, are there to tantalize, but never quite satiate. As the film progresses, the adherence to the tropes does work better, particularly in delivering those key moments (yes, that classic Saw score rips right on through in the third act) but it’s rarely the reinvention it might have been or that was teased in the lead-up.
As for those tropes, it’s obvious that Rock and Bousman know what they’re doing with Spiral to deliver. The traps are certainly memorable, particularly the opening tongue-tied-trap and a hot wax dip from hell, and fans will love that the same style from the trilogy of Saw films from the director remains intact. The gore is plentiful, the monologues about vague justice are robust, and the characters dutifully shady. Chris Rock remains the strangest choice as the lead, despite his arrival as a producer on the film, and it’s the out-of-place stand-up comedy routines of the first act that make the film feel a bit out of sync at times.
All in all, Spiral lives up to its subtitle. It’s simply one more chapter from the book of Saw. The potential for something bolder and bigger still boils underneath the basic formula of the film, but chances to even pull back in the cult of Jigsaw from previous entries is sorely missing. For a Saw film, it delivers. It’s brutal enough, it’s just stylish enough, and there are key moments of shock and awe that still work a decade and change down the road. Quite frankly, even with its obstacles, Spiral might be one of the better films of the franchise. However, just like its namesake, it’s just one more loop down the way of its own spiral.
Here’s to hoping Saw X tries something even more fresh.