There will always be a special place in my heart for the Saw films. I was 16 when the original came out and I was in that sweet spot of ‘too old to trick or treat’ and ‘too young to go barhopping’ on Halloween. This meant I typically found myself sitting in a theatre as it was something to do. At that time there was a new entry hitting the big screen every October like clockwork. Of course, the Paranormal Activity films came along and stole the thunder away from Jigsaw, but like all horror franchises that came before you couldn’t keep it down for long. Spiral is the 2nd attempt at a soft reboot of the series after 2017’s forgettable Jigsaw. So, is the fresh blood needed to reinvigorate the series or another boring chapter in ‘The Book of Saw’?
Detective Zeke (Chris Rock) is a straight-laced cop whose honesty has made him the pariah of the force. Once corpses are found in traps with messages telling victims to, “Live or die, make your choice” more than a few parts of the city’s horrible past come to light. With the help of his father, retired cop Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson), an idealistic rookie partner William (Max Minghella) Zeke begins to unravel the clues, but where will this spiral lead him?
It has been quite interesting seeing how fans have been reacting to this film. Some are praising it as a bold new take on a long-stagnant franchise while others see it as a limp attempt to reinvent something that wasn’t broken. As for me, I’d say I’m somewhere in the middle. Yeah, I hate to be this person, but I can not fully dismiss or embrace this entry. So, let’s look at both sides and give it a fair shake.
First and foremost this film has one major issue that has been a minor problem for the sequels that was somewhat overcome. The series struck gold when they cast Tobin Bell to lie on a floor for a good portion of the first film’s shoot. His portrayal of John Kramer kept the series far more entertaining than it sometimes had any right to be. But try as they might to ‘pass the torch’ nobody could ever measure up to Bell’s engaging persona. We had Amanda, Hoffman, Dr. Gordon, the two guys from the opening trap of Saw: The Final Chapter, and that boring lab technician from Jigsaw all hinted at as the ones who would take the reins to continue ‘The Game’. Unfortunately, none of them worked because either the actors couldn’t measure up or they had little interest in continuing.
As we know, most horror sequels that discard the original antagonist don’t often do well initially. To this day I know people who vehemently hate Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning and in spite of my undying love for Halloween III: Season of the Witch it often gets lumped into the same category. (Side Note: If you hate Halloween III you’re a horrible person and Tom Atkins will kick your ass and sleep with your mother. But, I digress.) I personally was quite a letdown that Spiral’s antagonist can be added to the pile of people who try and do not succeed at bringing the necessary gravitas to match Bell.
But there are some good aspects to Spiral as well. Darren Lynn Bousman’s directorial style has thankfully evolved since his work on Saw IV. In the 14 years since that film, he’s taken creative risks that have allowed for a better command of cinematography, design, and editing. Thanks to this and the $20 million budget Spiral looks far better than most of the previous films.
I also enjoyed the main performances. Chris Rock has pretty much been known for his comedic talents, but the man does have some solid dramatic chops. Don’t believe me, check out New City Jack. Here he plays Zeke as a straight-laced cop with a side of cynicism. You appreciate his back story and how it leads him to the point where we find him. He does a great job and is solid in the lead. Both Samuel L. Jackson and Mike Minghella do all they can with their limited screen time and make great foils for Rock. And I’m not going to lie; it was nice to see the story go back to its roots with a cop playing a game of cat and mouse. This is something that the majority of the sequels often neglected in order to service the traps.
Now let’s talk about the traps in Spiral. It was nice that there was a ‘back to basics’ feel here. Fewer machines built by a deranged civil engineer and more along the lines of something built in a person’s garage. Yes, there are some devices strapped to people’s bodies, but it’s nowhere near as elaborate as the ‘Angel Trap’ or ‘The Rack’ from Saw III. My personal favorites were the ‘Hot Wax’ and ‘Glass Grinder’ traps.
The frustrating thing about Spiral is it has some great moments and for the most part works on its own. However, as another Saw film, it’s a bit of a letdown. It wants to cash in on the concept of its namesake, but it also wants to keep the previous eight films at arm’s length. And this kind of ‘having your cake and eating it too’ makes me wonder if it was worth it. It was more enjoyable than Jigsaw, but that was a low bar to clear. I can only hope this one grows on me with additional viewings.
Overall Score 2/5
The Shameless Plugs
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