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May 13, 2021


written by: Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger
produced by: Oren Koules and Mark Burg
directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
rated: R (for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, pervasive language, some sexual references and brief drug use)
runtime: 93 min.
U.S. release date: May 14, 2021 (theaters)


Keeping myself away from the “Saw” franchise for this long was a deliberate decision. Granted, I’ve been told that the movie that started it all back in 2004 from director James Wan (making his feature debut), is actually quite good, with friends telling me how it doesn’t have the extreme “torture porn” vibe the subsequent installments would become known for, but I just couldn’t prioritize watching victims trapped what were inevitably fatal endgames. Still, serial killer storylines intrigue me, and when I learned that Chris Rock signed on to “Spiral” described as an spin-off or off-shoot of the series, I became somewhat curious. Would this movie be more of a crime thriller as opposed to the slasher horror vibe that dominated most of the previous installments? There’s a curiosity factor in approaching “Spiral”, especially for someone who’s never seen any “Saw” movie before.

Unfortunately, that curiosity wasn’t satiated with what is basically the ninth movie in this series, as the subtitle, “From the Book of Saw” reminds us that there’s a certain loyalty this new movie has to what’s come before it. Apparently, Rock is a huge fan of the series and pitched his own idea for his involvement in revitalizing the franchise to Lionsgate chairman, Michael Burns, while attending a mutual friend’s wedding in Brazil. Sure, Rock is known for comedy, but if you’ve been paying attention, he’s had his moments of career deviations in the action genre (“Bad Company”) and a rom-com (“Two Days in Paris”), so seeing him veer into the horror genre could be interesting. It turns out, the story behind Rock approaching the studio with a possible fresh take on a strung-out franchise is much more intriguing than anything happening in “Spiral”.



The story from screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger (both of whom penned 2017’s “Jigsaw”, the last movie from the “Saw” book) opens with a man’s gruesome murder in a subway system in a nondescript metropolitan city during a Fourth of July celebration. This man is knocked unconscious and wakes up in a trap where he has to decide whether to maim himself in order to live or let a train run him over and die. Since this is “From the Book of Saw”, you get the idea where this is going rather quickly and that’s unfortunate for viewers who were looking for a deviation from what’s come before it and I suppose whelming to fans of this series of grisly murders.

This first victim is a cop, someone we learn was a friend of Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Rock), who’s been ostracized from the police force since he exposed police corruption twelve years ago. Banks investigates with his new rookie partner Detective William Schenk (Max Minghella), and when he discovers the victim’s identity, he demands Captain Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols) to make him lead investigator on the case. It becomes clear none of his peers trust Banks, making it difficult for him to determine who to trust as the entire precinct works on a case of a cop killer, yet Schenk ensures Banks that he wants to make a difference on the streets, just like Banks’s retired police chief, Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson) did back in the day. However, the bloody crime scene also proves that the killer is setting out to emulate a new round of murderous games involving elaborate traps, very similar to the Jigsaw killings (from the previous movies).

If this movie wanted to take a more original meta approach, the story wouldn’t necessarily take place in the same universe as the Jigsaw killings, but be set in a world where characters were aware of the “Saw” movies. Therefore, the killer would be copying horrific acts from a horror film franchise, making a potentially intriguing commentary on the impact such a series could have on a depraved and unstable mind. But, I digress…

The mysterious hooded killer, who appears wearing an ugly pig mask begins contacting the police, specifically Banks, through a series of flash drives delivered to the station that detail his hints at his deadly plan. Like many serial killer movies, viewers are privy to details of the killer’s objectives before the protagonist can put any pieces of the puzzle together and in “Spiral” much of that occurs through tired villain monologuing that kick off each and every awful entrapment. The specifics here is that the killer is targeting corrupt cops, luring them into impossible traps he considers to be games and the catch is supposed to be that these victims deserve what’s coming to them. The problem is such a concept is not only overdone, it’s also quite predictable.



As much as the writers and director Darren Lynn Bousman (who helmed three previous “Saw” sequels) are attempting to make some kind of heavy-handed statement about police brutality and/or corruption, and possible a way to deal with it (albeit an extreme way), they do so in a way that tries to meets the expectations of “Saw” fans, relying more on certain familiarities rather than having something thought-provoking to say about the matter. The main solution this Jigsaw copycat has is simply to kill those who in power who’ve abused that power…solving nothing, really.

How Banks and his fellow detectives are introduced is unnecessarily confusing and I’m not one to confuse easily, but nevertheless…maybe it’s that Rock is monologuing about how impossible it would be for “Forest Gump” to be made nowadays (we’re assuming he’s talking about 2020 or 2021, let’s just call it “modern-day”) and since the audience primarily knows Rock as a funny guy, it’s hard not to see Zeke as anyone other than “Chris Rock”. Later on, he even makes an eye-rolling reference to “New Jack City”, one of the actor’s earlier movies. Once again making us think of Chris Rock instead of the character he’s playing, and as much as I like the Rock there are two modes to his performance here and moments where his character’s outbursts are unintentionally laughable.

As the movie unfolds, there’s a story that has potential underneath all the ridiculous police behavior and elaborate traps by the killer, one of a pariah detective living under the shadow of his father and haunted by his past. But this movie isn’t aware of such potential. All the while Zeke could be reevaluating the depth of corruption he once encountered as this new killer aims to punish those who’ve twisted their positions of power.

I suppose there’s no problem with any of this if you’re just showing up to see gruesome kills and you don’t mind characters who should know better acting stupidly. Just about every cop who wakes up in a trap in “Spiral” did so because they wandered off on his or her own, from the gruff Detective Fitch (Richard Zeppieri) to the clueless Captain that Nichols portrays. One scene finds the copycat Jigsaw diverting almost the entire precinct out of the station, just so he can apprehend Captain Garza in the basement and of course…she goes down there solo, just as Fitch did. Sorry, you deserve your fate. It’s crazy that this is the fictional world where all those Jigsaw killings happened in the past and yet there’s no clear police protocol regarding how to proceed, you know like DON’T proceed without backup!

These are the kind of things that can easily ripcord you out of such a movie…or any movie. It’s one of many elements reaffirming that as much as Lionsgate, Rock and everyone else involved in this wants viewers to believe here is a new take on the hit blockbusters that came out almost every Halloween during the aughts. Many will say that “Spiral” is relying moreso on the crime thriller aspect than the next “inventive” kill and maybe in that way it’s somewhat different than the movies that came before it, but the problem is the all the police characters are either stereotypes are just plain stupid.

Rock may be new to the franchise in “Spiral”, but it’s hard not to think how this movie would’ve been better off distancing itself from entirely from the franchise.
Jackson’s scenes are similar to Rock’s in that all we think about is all the character’s the prolific actor has played before. Rock and Jackson are good together and maybe would’ve been fun in a different movie, but eventually I just couldn’t help wondering what either of them are doing in this mess.


RATING: *1/2



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