The Saw franchise is one of the longest running horror movie franchises, spanning eight films over seventeen years. From James Wan’s claustrophobic game-changer through the numerous sequels, the Saw franchise has become synonymous for its extreme gore, unique deaths, and chaotic plots that offer up twists, flashbacks, and tales of morality.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is the latest entry in the Saw franchise and it is unlike any Saw movie we have seen before. Though there are aspects of the film that remind us of the Saw franchise that was created by James Wan and Leigh Whannell back in 2004, Spiral is a movie focused more on the characters and the murder mystery aspect and less on the intricate, gory killings.
Spiral takes place in a world where the events of Jigsaw are a thing of the past. But when a police officer dies by someone who seems to be a Jigsaw copycat, Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), a detective who is living in the shadow of his father (Samuel L. Jackson) as well as having a tainted reputation amongst other officers for turning in a dirty cop, is assigned lead detective on the case with rookie William Schenk (Max Minghella) as his partner. But as more grisly murders are happening, all of the victims being cops, Zeke and Schenk realize they are at the center of the killer’s game and must figure out who the killer is before more lives are taken.
In comparison to the previous Saw films, the chaos, blood, and gore of Spiral is relatively tame. Those going into Spiral expecting another torture porn blood bath should temper their expectations because Spiral isn’t a film that solely focuses on the gore like the later Saw films ended up being. That isn’t to say this movie lacks gore, as plenty of blood is shed throughout the quick 93-minute runtime. The torture machines are as creative as anything we’ve seen from the previous Saw films and will make you squirm in your seats as you watch the victims lose limbs and bleed profusely as they try and save themselves from Jigsaw’s latest trap. Without giving too much away, my favorite new trap involved glass bottles and chains. You’ll know which one I’m talking about when you see it.
The biggest strength of Spiral is the mystery thriller aspect of it. Though the franchise has featured detectives searching for Jigsaw before, the films rarely focused on the detectives solving the case and gave us paper-thin characters that we never had an emotional attachment to. Spiral is the most character-focused of the series and it makes for a more interesting film. Chris Rock is excellent as our protagonist. I had my doubts about the usually hilarious Rock’s ability to lead a serious horror film like this one, but he gives Zeke a surprising amount of depth, portraying his frustrations, anger, and fear as the death toll begins to pile up. The mystery of who Jigsaw isn’t really hard to unravel, but even when you think you know is behind the pig mask and black hood, the tight, intricate mystery and suspense of how the case will be solved will keep you hooked.
Like all Saw movies, Spiral is a movie about moral quandaries and people answering for their past sins. This is easily the most socially relevant film of any of the Saw films, as it looks at police corruption, modern policing, and social justice while also having Zeke, a “good cop” who is willing to turn in corrupt cops, look at the morality of those around him and the morality of himself. It doesn’t dive in and elevate those themes as much as it could have, but it does enough to make this more than just a run-of-the-mill horror-thriller.
If Spiral is any indication of the route the Saw franchise is going to take going forward, I am all for this reinvention. Spiral is a gripping, bloody mystery thriller with a top-notch performance from Chris Rock. Though less gore and overall violence, the film’s tight mystery and social relevancy make for one of the best entries in the Saw franchise.
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