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