The newest installment in a franchise that had its so-called “final chapter” eleven years ago is here. Spiral: From the Book of Saw is a horror film and the latest spin-off of the long-running Saw franchise. The film marks the return of veteran Saw director Darren Lynn Bousman, and we have James Wan and Leigh Whannell as executive producers.
Chris Rock may be the last person we expected to make a Saw film. Still, he stars as Detective Zeke Banks, a police officer who gets partnered with Detective William Schenck (Max Minghella) to investigate the murders of police officers, dying in a pattern that mirrors the style of the long-dead Jigsaw killer.
The Saw franchise has always been at the mercy of critics, but it’s one that Hollywood can’t seem to let go of. Even after the panned 2017 reboot, Jigsaw, the writers of that film are back for this film which, surprisingly, ended up as one of the better films in the series (which doesn’t say much).
Spiral does a good job of combining a different horror style with the classic Saw stuff we’re accustomed to seeing. As usual with these films, the movie opens with a gory trap that may have audience members wincing at the bodily mutilation.
As usual with a Saw film, this movie offers its moments of torture porn. It’s a serviceable bloodbath because it doesn’t sacrifice the story for gore. The film has a compelling mystery as we follow the police, whom the copycat killer is directly targeting.
One of the biggest issues with many of the Saw sequels is that there is a torture-filled escape room subplot and a police procedural subplot that always feels very disconnected from each other. However, this film combines the subplots, where the victims of the traps are the police investigating the murders.
The film gives off a ’90s police thriller aesthetic that feels almost like Se7en, with the grizzly serial killer actions and the detectives who must make sense of the horror surrounding them. However, the film's commitment to being a Saw film may ultimately hold the movie back.
Spiral takes a few small steps to set up its characters, with a few flashbacks to Zeke’s early days as a cop. He also has a distant relationship with his father, Marcus (played by the incomparable Samuel L. Jackson), but it never feels like their relationship goes anywhere.
Like other Saw films, much of the story is connected to an event that happened in the past, and at this point, the storyline feels weak and familiar. The twist is a bit predictable, and the return of the sped-up camera movements and jump cuts is unwise given the more locked-down nature of Jigsaw.
Furthermore, the choice to put comedian Chris Rock in the starring role is daring; he gives a good dramatic performance, but even so, there are moments of levity that feel like Rock trying out some of his stand-up material.
There are times where it feels like the characters are endlessly yelling, and they rarely ever take a breath. The setup for the character dynamic also feels cliché, with Zeke being a cop who goes against the rules, works alone, and doesn’t want a partner but is assigned one, much to his dismay.
While not all the character moments are earned, this film is effortlessly watchable. There are excellent scenes of tension beyond just the gory traps, and while the killer is not nearly as threatening as John Kramer, it’s far from the worst we’ve seen out of this series.
Grade: ★★★☆☆ [6/10, C+]
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is now playing only in theaters.
Rating: R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, pervasive language, some sexual references, and brief drug use