The Saw franchise has had a tough time in recent years trying to find the right formula to progress the series forward in a new exciting direction after its sheer box office dominance in the 2000’s. While 2017’s attempted revival entry Jigsaw earned bucket loads, many fans and critics were left feeling underwhelmed by the final product. As such, it seemed the prospect of another Saw-related film was dead in the water so soon after it had been brought back to life (somewhat). Surprisingly though, just two years on in 2019, Lionsgate announced that another franchise entry was in the works, and it seemed it was all thanks to…Chris Rock? Yes, THAT Chris Rock.
Aiming to take the series in a new direction and acting as the determined focal point, Chris Rock convinced the studio that Saw was alive and breathing. Overlooking much of the creative process and even ensuring Saw directorial stalwart Darren Lynn Bousman made a return to the series, the comedian was the spearhead behind Spiral: From The Book of Saw. You can’t help but commend Rock for that – a dedicated passion project finally coming to fruition when Lionsgate’s faith in the franchise was diminishing.
Spiral follows Detective Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Banks (Rock) as he attempts to piece together why a possible Jigsaw killer copycat is targeting police officers who work within his precinct. To make matters worse, the detective is receiving packages to his desk with all manners of cryptic gifts to startle and unsettle, leaving him with the distinct impression that this copycat’s motives are rooted in the possible corruption of the very badge he serves.
Spiral starts out as you would expect from a Saw movie – some unfortunate civilian has become a victim of a deadly and gruesome trap. In this case, the victim is one of Zeke’s close friends and fellow cops. It is an introduction that does exactly what it should – keep your interest and follow the template of what came before. But after Spiral’s interesting beginning, Bousman’s newest addition to the series becomes incredibly dull and painstakingly generic.
The movie suffers from serious Seven syndrome. When James Wan’s Saw first hit cinemas back in 2004, a large majority of critics called it an unashamed rip-off of David Fincher’s seminal thriller and as the series progressed so too did the constant allegations of this franchise simply being a ‘wannabe Seven’. I personally don’t agree with the franchise being labeled so maliciously by its detractors, but this newest Saw addition is the very definition of a Seven clone.
Spiral is a buddy cop movie at its core, and it isn’t long before we are introduced to Zeke’s new partner, Detective William Shenk played by Max Minghella (The Social Network). Just like in Fincher’s Seven, Zeke is the veteran detective who just can’t seem to catch a break and Shenk is the almost clueless newcomer who needs guidance far too regularly. Both men must contend with an enigmatic serial killer who is intent on delivering his own calculated form of justice as a means of rectifying the wrongs of his victims. Sound familiar? The only difference here between Spiral and Seven is that Seven’s characters are far more likable and have better chemistry.
With Spiral, no dynamic exists between anyone. Everyone just shouts at one another all the time. Almost every scene featuring human interaction ends in some form of loud shouting and over-acting and truthfully, it wears thin pretty quick. In between out-of-context Tarantino-esque attempts at humour or witty dialogue, Spiral’s characters are everything wrong with the Saw franchise by its ninth movie.
Rock is the biggest culprit of Spiral’s overly loud nature though even Samuel L. Jackson, in an all-too-brief appearance, gets in on the shouting too. I genuinely cannot remember one scene between any characters that did not end in insults, shouting or confused dialogue fueled by anger or resentment. That said, even with all the shouting, not a single performance from the cast here registers and I expected much better from Rock and Jackson particularly.
The gore side of things, which is always going to be the biggest draw for Saw fans, is unimpressive as well. All attempts at scares are again unnecessarily loud – eardrum-shattering jump scares that all too regularly leave viewers wincing. Meanwhile, the traps themselves are surprisingly dull. There is no denying Spiral looks polished and the much-loved signature hyper over-editing that remains a visual trope for the franchise is present. Yet, the traps are usually comprised of something around the victim’s face or head and some other limb area and are really just mostly uninventive run-of-the-mill stuff that has bogged down this franchise for a while now. It’s not all bad though as one of the traps involving a glass-crushing machine is the clear highlight of the movie, feeling viscerally nasty and weirdly emotional – essentially embodying what this franchise should be.
Regarding the plot and more importantly, the twist (because we all know it’s coming), Spiral may just be Saw’s low point. If you copy and pasted any generic thriller plot focusing on detectives or homicide cases into a blank canvas for a new Saw movie, chances are you will find the fundamental components of Spiral. Bousman’s movie just plods along following the usual routine and formula but with one issue glaringly obvious – the twist.
From very early on in Spiral’s runtime, it became pretty clear where it was headed and who may be behind this Jigsaw copycat. I’d say roughly about 30 minutes in I clocked who it was and genuinely hoped by the end that I was wrong. Yet alas, I wasn’t and Bousman made no attempt whatsoever to hide his tracks and send the audience down a different path. If you’ve watched plenty of psychological thrillers, it won’t prove difficult piecing this mystery together. When it is eventually revealed, all you can really do is sigh and shake your head. Spiral really is that predictable and generic.
I’ll be brutally honest here. I really enjoy the Saw franchise even with all its faults and glaring issues. Hell, I think Saw VI is easily one of the best and more interesting Saw movies and that was towards the tail end of the franchise. But this newest entry, Spiral: From The Book of Saw, has no interest in spicing proceedings up. Plus, when you break it down, everything that happens here has little to no relevance to the franchise. Even 2017’s Jigsaw did a better job at connecting the dots but Spiral doesn’t even try. Instead, by its conclusion, we just end up with a bargain bin Seven. Sadly, this feels like ‘game over’.