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Spiral: From the Book of Saw (A Movie Review)

Updated: 4 days ago


Starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, Dan Petronijevic, Richard Zeppieri, Patrick McManus, Edie Inksetter, Thomas Mitchell, Nazneen Contractor, KC Collins, Trevor Gretzky, Chris Ramsay, Genelle Williams, Dylan Roberts, Ali Johnson, Zoie Palmer, Morgan David Jones, Frank Licari and John Tokatlidis.

Screenplay by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger.

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman.

Distributed by Lionsgate. 93 minutes. Rated R.

It was rather shocking when it was announced that Chris Rock would be the star in the latest reboot of the Saw franchise. This is not just because it is a different type of film than the comic actor has really ever played – occasionally he has done some more dramatic work, so that might work.

It is not just because Rock is by far the biggest name actor who has ever been in the Saw series, and frankly his co-star Samuel L. Jackson is undoubtedly the second biggest name who has been in the franchise. (Jackson is also a weird choice for a Saw star, although he makes a little more sense than Rock.) Usually, the series tends to employ more b-level names: people like Cary Elwes, Shawnee Smith, Scott Patterson, Costas Mandylor and Angus Macfadyen.

It’s not just because the Saw series is getting really long in tooth. There have already been eight previous films in the franchise. The original Saw was a surprising success when it was released in 2004, sort of jump-starting the short-lived “torture porn” craze and leading to six sequels being released right around Halloween for six straight years until 2010: Saw II-Saw VI and Saw 3D.

The series was already rebooted once before, in 2017 with Jigsaw. Now, a few years later, it has been rebooted yet again as Spiral. (And there is a rumor of a Saw X coming down the line, although with the extremely muted popular and critical reaction to Spiral when released in theaters earlier this year, that may not happen any time soon.)

How can we miss Saw if it just won’t go away?

It’s not even because the killer in the Saw movies has been killed at least once or twice in the series. (In total transparency, the only one of the Saw films that I had seen before Spiral was the original film, which I found to be an effective genre film, if sometimes needlessly violent.) So, how many Jigsaw killers can there be out there?

It just seems an odd choice for Rock – a comedian and an actor who has, granted, made quite a few strange picks in choosing material in his film career. (After all, he’s been in six Adam Sandler movies!) Apparently, Rock is a fan of the Saw universe and came up with the concept and decided to give it a shot, no matter how ill-fitting his fast-talking comic acting style is to an intense, brooding, blood-soaked horror noir.

The Saw films have the gimmick of killing people with insanely (and unnecessarily) complex Rube-Goldberg-esque torture devices, forcing the victims to make a split-second decision as to whether they are going to maim themselves or if they are going to die. (Spoiler alert: no matter which choice they make, they pretty much inevitably die.)

And honestly, even the torture contraptions feel a little tired here, stuff that is disgusting but not necessarily imaginative. They even pay tribute to the first Saw movie by repeating the simplest – and in many ways most effective – trap in the series. Rock’s character at one point wakes up handcuffed to a radiator, out of reach of the key to free himself, with a handsaw within reach. The idea is that in order to escape, the victim would have to saw off their own hand. Of course, in the new iteration, it turns out to be a bit of a cheat.

Which is something that could be said of much of the film. Spiral doesn’t even try to bring Jigsaw back to life (yet again), instead acknowledging throughout that the fiend is a copycat killer. And while as noted before Spiral has the best cast of any Saw movie – beyond Rock and Jackson, they also have respected character actors Max Minghella and Marisol Nichols on hand as fellow cops – let’s face it, the Saw movies are not really actors’ showcases.

I sort of understand why the idea of making Spiral was attractive – trying to add some sizzle and star power to a rather moribund franchise. Sadly, it doesn’t quite work. Instead, Spiral is more evidence, if it was needed, that maybe it is time to take down the Jigsaw killer for good.

If it will make the producers feel better, they can knock off the series with one of those inexplicably complicated killing contraptions which have become the series’ sole raison d'être.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: July 20, 2021.


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