In 2004 a low budget horror film got released called Saw, from Australian duo James Wan and Leigh Whannell and it became a huge hit. It started out as a stand-alone film, but due to the success and the hard-hitting ending, a sequel was planned. Since then, a new Saw film would come out every October, until the seventh sequel, which was titled Saw: The Final Chapter (2010). The stories had been told and laid to rest, that is until Jigsaw (2017), which acted as a sequel and a new story within the universe came along and didn’t really add anything new, it had all been seen and done before. After that it was quiet on the Saw franchise front, until Spiral: From The Book Of Saw (2021) was announced with Chris Rock starring, who actually wrote the story for this as well. Is there life left in this franchise?
Spiral focuses on Det. Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) is a lone wolf cop, after reporting his partner many years ago for murdering a witness. With his veteran officer Marcus (Samuel L Jackson) retired, he has no one on his side in the department, but things soon change. Banks becomes a part of a sick and twisted game by an apparent Jigsaw copycat, who is targeting members of the police force. He must team up with rookie Det. Schenck (Max Minghella) to investigate who is behind the new wave of brutal traps and stop them before they too become a target for this copycat’s apparent revenge.
Spiral is more of a stand-alone film within the Saw franchise, acting as more of a spin off than a sequel and it works. There is no need for the story to worry about continuity issues and focuses on a brand-new threat with fresh characters. Whilst Jigsaw is mentioned, he is not the focus of the story, with Banks being the central focus and the attack towards the police department. There is enough backstory throughout the film to make Banks an intriguing lead, and the issues he has dealt with throughout his career, which may or may not be clues as to why someone has targeted him and his colleagues. The focus of the actions by the police in this film is absolutely a social commentary, the issues have been running deep for years and whilst this is not at all subtle in the film, it doesn’t aim to preach to its audience.
Darren Lynn Bousman who directed Saw II (2005), Saw III (2006) and Saw IV (2007) returns as director here, with a much different style and approach to his previous films in the series. It is a refreshing feel and certainly makes this entry feel much different to what had come before it. Bousman is much more refined here, there is not an overuse of crazy visuals, instead going for more of a Fincher and Seven (1995) vibe that works in its favour. The script by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger who also wrote Jigsaw do a far better job with this material, adding some much-needed light humour and some depth into this spin off. The story progresses at a steady pace, revealing enough to make for a compelling and mysterious ride for most of the run time.
Where the film does have some fault lies within its third act, the pacing starts to unravel and the ultimate twist that is always expected in a Saw film is a little predictable and not a huge gut punch and it really should have been. The final trap feels quite anticlimactic, with the stakes quite high it just did not feel as though this was the big one, lacking a big emotional pull. The traps themselves were quite different to what has been seen before, perhaps slightly more amateurish with some very terrible ways to ‘win’. The brutality should be there, but it is not, even with some great gore FX and tense moments, something was missing, and it does feel like a letdown, when the series is known for the traps, brutality and packing a big punch, it really felt less impactful here.
Chris Rock makes for an excellent lead, showing he is more than capable of dramatic and serious roles, while still bringing his brand of humour to the mix. Banks is an intriguing lead, a character that felt crafted with a lot of care by Rock, that easily carries the film and keeps investment high. Max Minghella delivers a good performance as the awkward rookie, trying his best to make an impression on his new partner all the while dealing with some grizzly crimes. Samuel L Jackson is playing a version of himself, however it works for this film and he did dial it back to fit in with the tone of the film and not be a huge distraction. Marisol Nichols was quite strong as Capt. Angie Garza, she played off Rock extremely well and their scenes were some of the stronger ones in the film.
Spiral is a welcome change for the Saw series, with a different feel and approach to what has been done already, it is the breath of fresh air the series desperately needed. It works as a film where the audience does not need to have seen all eight Saw films, enough is there for this to make sense and stand on its own.
Whether or not fans of the series will enjoy this entry is not something that can be speculated, this writer appreciated that it was more of a stand alone and branching out into different possibilities for this franchise. Whether Spiral is the start of a new series of films remains to be seen, it is however a good first move for the series to have new life.
Review written by Marcella Papandrea