Spiral: From The Book of Saw (2021)
Spiral: From The Book of SAW, the latest film in the SAW franchise (or, latest story in the SAW Universe, rather) not only marks the return of big-screen horror, but, for many viewers (re: ME), marks the return of film to theaters, period. Spiral is the first big screen horror film in this more fully-vaccinated time, and if the question is whether or not its worth it to venture out to the local cinema and pay top dollar to see a new release, that question seems more timely and important as ever. Spiral may not be the full return to the world of Jigsaw and John Kramer longtime fans may want, but it’s both a respectable side-story that breathes life in a long-stagnant franchise, and an enjoyable, entertaining flick in its own right: a fine excuse to grab popcorn and a soda and let the outside world disappear for 90 or so minutes.
Warning… light spoilers ahead.
Chris Rock, who played a big part in how SAW returns to the big screen, is Det. Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks, a homicide detective branded a rat by most of his fellow officers for playing too much by the book and turning “traitor” against a dirty cop. He’s living in his father’s shadow, retired Captain Marcus Banks (a mostly understated Samuel L. Jackson), and, in an order to curb his reckless approach to police work, is paired with a young detective (Max Minghella) by the current chief (Marisol Nichols). Faster than you can rip a key from your eye in order to free yourself from a reverse bear trap, a killer appears on the scene, targeting dirty cops with games in the modus operandi of John Kramer, using Jigsaw’s devious games as a way to reform the police from the ground (or guts) up. Zeke has to put ego aside and trust his new partner, possibly the only one he can trust, as he races against time to stop this new killer from butchering their way through the whole precinct.
Let’s get this out of the way, right now: without spoiling who the killer is, no, John Kramer does not return from the dead, and not even by way of deceptive editing and dual timelines (although if you think that SAW 3D was better than JIGSAW, you’re out of your damn mind). Jigsaw is dead. This killer is definitely a copycat, and, once that is out of the way, you realize that SAW is the traps, and, also, the music of Charlie Clouser. Both of these elements return, as does longtime series director Darren Lynn Bousman, who trades the usual Nine Inch Nails industrial look of most of the franchise for slick cameras and neon streaked lighting, a nod to the gritty action police films of the 80’s, while also evoking some gialloesque moments. This SAW is a different beast, but these difference are most welcome.
It would be remiss to fail to mention Chris Rock, who delivers a great, serious performance as Detective Zeke Banks. Rock was apparently inspired by films like 48 Hours and New Jack City in both his performance and whatever ideas and inspiration he brought to the story, and his passion and belief in the project show. The supporting cast serve the film perfectly well, with Jackson delivering a more grounded performance than usual, while still remaining, undeniably, Samuel L. Jackson.
Alright. We know why we’re here. The traps. The kills. The puppet. The pig mask. What about ‘em? Well, they’re all here, albeit almost all in completely new forms, all servicing the plot and the (frighteningly relevant) themes of the film. The killer targets crooked cops, all guilty of varying crimes and infractions that have lead to the death of innocents, so the traps and the kills all serve to deliver fitting justice to their victim; it’s in this regard, and it’s dealings with homicide officers in general, that definitely bring this SAW closer to the tone of SEVEN. The puppet and pig mask have been redesigned as well, both acting as a twisted image the killer uses against the corrupt “pigs” he targets. The kills and traps are gruesome, but the focus is less on flayed viscera and mutilations and more on the twisted ironic justice the traps heap upon their victims, but, rest assured - there is still blood, and lots of it.
Spiral: From The Book of Saw does not reinvent the franchise, but it certainly expands the universe and breathes a bit of life back into a series that has suffered its share of diminishing returns. Darren Lynn Bousman and Chris Rock have crafted an enjoyable horror film that plays both as thriller police procedural and SAW’s brand of old-dark-house-meets-body-torture splat flick, but, more than that, the filmmakers have given horror fans a much needed reason to return to the big screen, and that, itself, is worth the price of admission alone.
Spiral: From The Book of SAW (2021)
d. Darren Lynn Bousman, w. Josh Stolberg & Peter Goldfinger
s. Chris Rock, Max Minghelia, Marisol Nichols, Samuel L. Jackson
music by Charlie Clouser