Just when you thought the Saw franchise had finally claimed its final victim in Jigsaw, Lionsgate has decided to keep the gruesome franchise going with Spiral. I know it seemed like the character of Jigsaw had finally been milked (or bled) for all its worth, what more can they do with this franchise? Honestly when I first heard about this film I groaned, I love horror and I love gore but even I was feeling the franchise had gotten a bit stale. As it turns out there does seem to be more story to be juiced from this franchise and I’ll say it right now, this film was the game changer the franchise needed and it helps pave the way for plenty of pain, revenge and justice down the road. This is a film that was long overdue to the franchise and I’ll go so far as to say it’s perhaps my favorite film of the series since the release of the first film.
Even if you’ve never seen a Saw film before, Spiral works well as a standalone film. It’s not as though the previous films were serious think pieces, but of course if you’ve seen the previous films it will only add more to the experience. That being said, Spiral does take a different approach and plays out more like a police procedural film, if you’ve ever seen the 1995 film Seven you’ll most likely catch many of the films homage’s to David Fincher’s classic. Seeing the film play out more so as a crime thriller definitely opens the scope of the film but to a degree I feel it steps up the films pedigree, no longer being a relatively small scale “torture porn” but now it’s as though the franchise has matured wanting to give the audience more than just some gore on the wall. Then there is the casting of Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson, two names I’m pretty sure no one would have expected to see in this franchise, but most surprising is just how good Chris Rock is in this film. It’s been a while since Chris Rock has been a name that one would call a box office draw but this is the role that is going to change that (especially when you factor in his performance in Fargo last year. We get to see a lot of range from Rock in this role and it makes sense why he made himself Executive Producer on the film.
So what’s the film actually about? Quite a bit of time has passed since the last Jigsaw murders occurred and when a cop killed in a subway tunnel under suspicious circumstances the homicide department is given reason to believe they have a copycat killer on their hands. Detective Zeke Banks (Rock) is taking lead on the case with his rookie partner William Schenk (Max Minghella). No one wants to work with Zeke mostly because everyone in the department views him as a “snitch” despite his father being the previous Chief of Police played by Samuel L. Jackson. When another cop is found dead it’s believed that the killer is targeting “dirty cops” and as far as Zeke can tell that pretty much puts a target on everyone’s back. With the films killer focusing in on “dirty cops” and the attention in the media over the past year with BLM, I feel the films delayed release was a sort of a blessing because it could have been vilified for its content though I still feel the film will get a lot of attention for this. That being said I don’t feel the film has any political agenda, it’s just simple coincidence.
Moving on to the gore and violence, yes even though the film takes a different approach there is still plenty of gore and stomach churning moments, this like the other Saw films is not for the squeamish. The contraptions are over the top and cruel weapons of pain just like in the previous entries and at times had me wondering where would a character go to learn to create these devices, perhaps a DIY video on YouTube? The make-up FX are what audiences have come to expect, the less is more approach has never really been the route the franchise has gone, instead they have tried to be as unflinching and in your face as the censors will allow.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman returns to the franchise after directing Saw 2, 3, and 4, he returns to the franchise with more experience and in my opinion his best work to date (Repo! The Genetic Opera has been a long time favorite of mine). Visually this is the best looking of the films in the franchise and the pacing of the film is very well paced almost to the point where when I realized the film was about to end I felt a little cheated, I wasn’t ready for it to end, I wanted more. The film clocks in at 93 minutes, basically your typical length for a horror film but part of me wonders if there is a longer cut out there and if that extra time was able to allow the film to breathe a little. I just wonder because there are certain plot points I feel were cut down or not explored and it could have made this good film a great film. I won’t get into spoiler territory but there are some misdirection edits in the film that bothered me as well, a for instance we see a character go into a building without any context and this character disappears for a while not to reappear till 30 minutes later. The film plays with its timeline with some flashbacks and while most of them work it does seem a little over done.
I went into this film with low expectations and I walked away excited about the franchise and its potential for future films. I had more fun with this film than I expected and cringed more than I have in a mainstream film in a while and that’s what I couldn’t ask for more from a movie. But what will stick with me most is how much I enjoyed seeing Chris Rock in this role, I’m not saying let’s give him an Oscar but I hope this gets him more projects down the road. Typically the Saw films are known to come out in October for the Halloween crowds, but Spiral genuinely is a fun summer film that I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be another “post pandemic” box office hit.