Movie Review: ‘Spiral: From the Book of Saw’

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Cast: Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, Zoie Palmer, Genelle Williams, Dan Petronijevic

Plot: Det. Zeke Banks is an abrasive and bad tempered cop ostracised from his department after turning evidence against his corrupt partner. His inability to trust his peers only become worse when a Jigsaw copycat begins targeting corrupt cops.

Review: You’ll be hard pressed to find a horror movie fan who isn’t into the Saw franchise. They were a unique new product with lots of room to expand, and everyone would turn out to see how whacky and creative the new traps would be. Lots of fun to be had. After seven movies and an attempted but flavourless reboot, we were surprised to see Chris Rock step into the ring with a fresh new take. Well…it’s not that new. It’s certainly another Saw movie.

Rock stars and initiated the project, but the reins were handed over to franchise veteran Bousman, who directed four of the original seven films. They have taken the time to identify what parts of the series needed to be kept to maintain the feeling of the established universe. This is mostly in the form of green and yellow filters over everything and high energy montages along with random cutaways. They’ve also recognised the importance of the franchise’s iconography, keeping the pig masks and TV sets but adding blue packages of clues and grotty USB drives.

There’s a greater emphasis of character development this time around, which is a welcome addition. With the exception of the original Jigsaw Killer, the character’s of all the original films had all the depth of a pancake so this is a welcome addition. Rather than the usual duel plots of victims and law enforcement we’re just following our main cop. Zeke (Rock) is the son of a highly respected police chief (Jackson) and is considered a back-stabbing rat by the rest of the department. He makes no secret of this hostility and is rude, abusive and angry to all within range. Why he never just transferred to a different precinct is apparently something we’re not supposed to think about.

Now paired with rookie cop and family man Will Schenk (Minghella), the two are out to investigate a grisly murder they are shocked to learn (after sweeping up all the pieces) is one of their colleagues. It quickly becomes clear that there’s a Jigsaw copycat targeting corrupt cops, abducting them and putting them into mechanical death traps where they have a chance to escape if they put themselves through enough pain. Whilst Zeke is being taunted and the evidence is starting to point towards his own father they’re on the clock to catch the new maniac torture-obsessed games master.

Although the original Jigsaw, played by the perfect Tobin Bell, was killed in the third movie he managed to appear through the rest of the series and maintained a strong presence while his disciples took up the mantle. This is the only movie to date not to feature John Kramer’s gravelling voice and demented philosophy, and that is very much a double-edged saw blade. There’s a reason he immediately became an iconic horror villain. We are on board with the idea of a new killer operating completely outside of the messy established lore, but you’re going to need someone pretty damn impressive to fill those shoes. This is one of the biggest failings of Jigsaw, the previous reboot attempt, but that killer was so boring and bland I can’t remember what he even looked like. The new killer here is more fleshed out, but he sure isn’t a John Kramer.

Possibly more important than that, however, is the traps. If it wasn’t for the distinctive mechanical dismemberment traps the series would not have brought in its original audience and turned into a smash hit. Each film has at least one scenario that stands out as the iconic one. Spiral does not have one of these, and overall they’re simply not as impactful as previous films despite Bousman’s track record and only making traps that they set up and worked in real life before implementing into the film. Perhaps it’s because they’re lacking Jigsaw’s philosophy about the ‘will to live’, but they feel shallow. You either dismember yourself or you die, there’s no trail or puzzle or challenge to work through. Many of them also seem like it’ll be preferable to just close your eyes and let it kill you, since it’ll be quick not leave you bleeding out before anyone finds you.

I’m going to need someone to check this for me, but I’m also pretty sure the second trap can be subverted if the victim just…stands up and moves to the side a little.

They went into this reboot with the right idea, but didn’t quite manage the execution. If all you want is another Saw movie with the classic aesthetic then fine, but this is unlikely to reinvigorate the series in the way they hope.

Rating: FIVE out of TEN