“Spiral” marks the ninth (!!) film in the “Saw” series, but it is the first that is not directly related to the repeatedly retconned storyline. Carrying the subtitle, “From the Book of Saw” it begins a new chapter with characters who are all aware of the Jigsaw Killer but have never been involved in any of their homicidal antics. After eight films, it’s nice to have the illusion of a fresh start, but in reality, the bones of the franchise remain the same.
The film gets its biggest injection of fresh blood with the addition of Chris Rock as Detective Zeke Banks and Samuel L. Jackson as his father Marcus. It would be a stretch to call what Rock is doing in this film as acting with many of his scenes feeling like a particularly angry standup routine. It’s hard to blame his character though. Zeke is the one cop in their precinct who decided to take a stand and rat on a dirty cop. He took a bullet for it, lost the respect and support of the entire department, and even the relationship with his father suffers. To make things worse, after botching a bust with no backup, the Captain (Marisol Nichols) forces him to take on a rookie partner (Morgan David Jones). That’s a lot of classic cop tropes to place on the shoulders of one man. Thankfully Chris Rock has that thing. I wouldn’t call it charm or charisma, but that thing that makes you want to watch him. His presence draws you in, and you’re compelled to keep watching to see what will happen, and how he’ll react to it. The best thing about this movie could easily be having Chris Rock in the leading role.
After the initial setup, and a delightful monologue about how Academy Award-winning “Forest Gump” would never get made today, people start dying. Dirty cops specifically. Director Darren Lynn Bousman, who previously helmed episodes II, III, and IV, seems to relish the idea of corrupt cops being punished in horrific manners. It was “Saw II” that first focused on punishing a bad cop who had ruined the lives of others. Given the current social climate, “Spiral” has even more of an exploitation film taste to it than the rest in the series, but whether that’s a good thing or bad will depend on the viewer.
Script-writing duo Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger who previously worked together on “Piranha 3D” and “Jigsaw,” do a great job of honoring the roots of the series while attempting to create something fresh. Tobin Bell is nowhere to be seen, nor is his creepy puppet Billy. Instead, we have a new murderous mascot, a macabre marionette with the likeness of a pig. At first, I thought this was a completely new creation, but the Pig visage rears its ugly head multiple times throughout the “Saw” series. Unfortunately, the writers are bound by the relentless rules of this universe, and we know to expect a twist. They play fair, making it a bit too easy to guess who the Jigsaw copycat is, and what their motivations could be. It’s a small caveat if you believe the true stars of a “Saw” film to be the rank and gory Rude Goldberg devices. Stolberg and Goldfinger have stated in interviews that they wanted the gore to be less of a gimmick as in the previous films, but to serve the story more. There may be fewer gratuitous kills in this movie, but when they occur, they certainly deliver.
“Spiral” almost falls into the “more of the same” bucket but manages to be interesting and entertaining. Besides, how often do you get to see Sam Jackson and Chris Rock taking on psychopaths and dirty cops??