It is impossible to name a horror franchise that has arrived at its ninth entry without a bump or two in the road that got it there. It doesn’t matter if it’s because every entry tries to do something new and different yet somehow manages to be the same thing, or if, as in Saw’s case, the creators tried to extend the story year on year and got themselves tongue-tied into such a convoluted plot that a fresh reboot after its “Final Chapter” could barely save it.
Now while Jigsaw’s luke-warm reception back in 2017 – a full seven years after the first end to the franchise – almost killed all fan loyalty for the crime and horror series that is questionably credited as inventing torture porn, Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures, thankfully, didn’t. But knowing that something fresh was required, not just the same old traps and the same old tape recordings, Jigsaw and Piranha 3D writers Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg, along with actor, producer and now writer Chris Rock, had to put together something different to put in the hands of Saw fans around the world. And such, Spiral: From the Book of Saw was born.
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Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), a homicide detective with a bad standing in his precinct gets handed a rookie partner in William Schenk (Max Minghella – The Handmaid’s Tale) and the gory death of what appears to be a homeless person on a subway track. All in the same day. But a gruesome delivery to the police station turns this random one-off death into the start of a vendetta against the police using the long dead John Kramer’s playbook as inspiration for their carnage.
As the killer picks off members of the force one-by-one and teasing Banks and Schneck with cryptic clues as to their identity, Zeke enlists the help of his father, celebrated detective Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), and tries to piece together the clues before the voice recording hiding behind a pig mask decimates the police department with their Jigsaw Killer inspired game.
As set ups go, Spiral’s is rather run-of-the-mill. Somewhat generic in its plot and, for a series that has prided itself as the years went on in confusing even the most seasoned of puzzle solving horror enthusiasts, almost wholly predictable in its story-telling. What separates Spiral from most of the series it aspires to be a part of is two-fold, with each stroke of the blood soaked brush as brilliant as the other.
First, director Darren Lynn Bousman is back behind the camera. The man behind the first three sequels to Saw – arguably the best films in the series after the first – was known for pushing the boundaries in his productions previously while still keeping with the spirit of the original entry. His traps were deliciously brutal while the story he oversaw twisted and turned and kept you guessing without being obnoxious about it. After James Wan, Bousman made Saw what it is today, his direction across his back-to-back sequels steered the twisted tales in a way that couldn’t be undone in later years. There is no better director to have in a film you hope to reinvigorate both the franchise and the fans.
Secondly, and possibly the most important ingredient in this razor blade-filled cake, is the return to Saw’s roots. Spiral is a police procedural film, a crime thriller, albeit a truly gory one. While people would flood to cinema screens – less so as the years went on – to see just how elaborate and nasty the traps would get; the underlying tale being woven for us across eight films would simply get lost.
So instead of doing like Jigsaw did and include a long dead Jigsaw Killer in its narrative to keep the franchise alive, Spiral instead takes a page not just “from the book of Saw” but from inspirational genre classics like Seven, and intertwines the gritty detective story with one that acknowledges that it lives in a world where the Jigsaw Killer once existed, but is only relevant to the person currently copying his way of operating. It’s a breath of fresh air to a series long in need of real CPR.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw isn’t going to wow audiences with its originality or its character development. Anyone hell-bent on not sitting back and letting Rock and Bousman do their thing and entertaining you for an hour and a half will be able to gleefully tell the world how they knew what was coming, and how Saw is just another burned out horror franchise. But fans, and those willing to be entertained by what gets put on screen will be treated to some wonderfully gruesome traps, a fun as hell story, superb performances from everyone involved all rolled up into an exceptionally well directed crime thriller. What more could you possibly want?
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is out now at cinemas. Please check your cinema’s website for details of Covid-19 safety measures, and read up on government and local government guidelines, and the latest scientific advice about safety and risks.