Back in 2004, the first Saw film was a novel idea. Put two men in an abandoned room together, with little hope of survival and see how it plays out. Produced on a budget of just over $1million, the series spawned seven sequels, which all went on to make it one of the most successful horror franchises ever. The last film in the franchise, Jigsaw, was released in 2017 and seemed to spell the end for Tobin Bell’s now iconic Jigsaw Killer. Four years later and the pandemic delayed Spiral: From The Book Of Saw is finally here, but sadly doesn’t do enough to revive a flagging horror staple.
At a Fourth of July parade, an off-duty police officer follows a crook into the sewers after witnessing them steal a woman’s handbag from her. Soon, the officer finds himself hanging by his tongue in the city’s subway tunnels. A message plays, and where we would expect to see Jigsaw’s infamous creepy doll, we now someone hidden behind a pig mask – instructing the officer they must lose their tongue after lying under oath or be killed by the oncoming subway train. Standard procedure follows for a Saw film, even if Spiral is meant to be a reboot, and the officer fails his game – thus losing his tongue and his life. Sent to investigate the matter, we meet Chris Rock’s Detective Zeke Banks and his new, keen to impress, rookie partner Detective William Schenk played by Max Minghella. The two start to unravel the mystery surrounding their fellow officers death, and soon find themselves playing a new game bearing many hallmarks of the long since deceased Jigsaw Killer.
In many ways, Chris Rock and series regular director Darren Lynn Bousman should be commended for their attempts to bring something new to the Saw franchise. While the previous attempt at a reboot may have ended up being slightly more entertaining than Spiral, at least this tries to take things in a new direction. The police procedural elements are slick, and Chris Rock’s world-weary detective is a part tailor made for Rock’s quick wit. It’s just all sadly let down by a been there, done that routine which fails to really invigorate the film or the franchise and is one of the low points in Saw’s history.
While the cast is generally fine, the likes of Samuel L. Jackson as Zeke’s father and Max Minghella are wasted. The chance to see Rock and Jackson team-up as a buddy-cop, father-son duo constantly bickering while trying to apprehend a killer targeting corrupt police officers would have made for a more entertaining and focused film. The slick style of Spiral is also a step away from the emo greens and heavy metal soundtrack of previous instalments. But this is soon lost and the film feels more like a TV crime drama, while the police run around being completely incompetent and with only a few seemingly knowing how to do their job properly. There is, you would hope anyway, inadvertent humour when several flashbacks show us Rock and Jackson arguing over Rock’s decision to rat out one of his colleagues – this is achieved by placing comedic facial hair on the pair and having Rock wear a baseball cap backwards as if to show his youthfulness. It all seems to be some sort of self-mockery as opposed to the fan-service you may have expected from Rock, who is a self confessed die hard fan of the films.
With all the Saw films, if all else fails we can rely on the “game” and the traps to provide some deliciously morbid entertainment. But, not here. The kills are unimaginative and it becomes harder for the captives to find a way out, something that was addressed long ago in Saw III. With Darren Lynn Bousman returning to the series after directing Saw II, III and IV, one would hope his knowledge of the films would bring some much needed experience. Instead, Bousman fails to find the flair he had in Saw II and flies through the direction on auto-pilot. Having recently watched all of the Saw films, and become a huge fan in the process, I feel that Spiral will satisfy no one. Not the long term fans, or anyone seeking an entry point into the series. An opportunity missed.
Spiral: From The Book Of Saw is available now on Digital, Blu-ray and DVD.