The Saw franchise has long needed an injection of fresh blood. Even coming from someone who loves the horror films, the last installment, Jigsaw, was proof that things were at an inflection point. The movies were certainly enjoyable, but the initial idea and social commentary had been set aside for a more and more complex mythology. It was always going to take some sort of radical change to keep these flicks going, or else their time would have passed. Enter Chris Rock, who is a fellow fan, and yet was able to pitch a huge departure from what’s come before. The result is something that continues in the world of Saw, but isn’t really a reboot or a sequel. Truly, Spiral: From the Book of Saw (or Spiral, for short) is its own thing. Not only is that an exciting prospect for cinephiles, it results in an incredibly strong motion picture.
Spiral is not just good, it’s downright great. In fact, this is easily one of the best films of 2021, so far. It gives you what you want from this property, to be sure. There’s gore, inventive traps, and a strong twist, but it’s not limited to that. There’s character development, creativity, and a boldness of vision befitting an original work. Threading that needle couldn’t have been easy, but Rock and company were able to pull it off in gloriously bloody fashion.
The series is one I’ve long been a fan of, but not all installments are created equally. The original Saw (at least until now), has stood alone in terms of the franchise’s quality. Saw VI is next in line, followed by Saw II and Saw III. The others, to one degree or another, are either just for fans, guilty pleasures, or both. So, not only is Spiral easily the best sequel, it actually stands tall as the overall best outing yet.
Detective Zeke Banks (Rock) is a man alone in the Metro PD. After reporting a fellow officer to Internal Affairs, the department has largely turned their backs on him. Captain Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols) has had enough of Zeke working on his own, so she pairs him with a rookie partner in William Schenk (Max Minghella). He has no interest in this, but before he can complain too much, they’re called to investigate a dead body in the subway. When they arrive on the scene, it’s no homeless individual, but rather a member of the Police Department. The murder takes on another level when a recorded message for Zeke announces that this is going to be the first of many. Someone has it out for dirty cops, but more so than that, is planning to off them. Soon, more begin to die, in a style reminiscent of the Jigsaw Killer.
As Zeke investigates the killings, which each are accompanied by a spiral insignia and another recording, it becomes clear that there’s a personal element to this as well. Zeke and William are pursuing leads, but the killer is always one step ahead. The former is quickly becoming obsessed, involving his father Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), who used to run the department, in things as well. As the bodies pile up, it’s only a matter of time before Zeke discovers what actually is going on, for better or worse.
Chris Rock, along with Samuel L. Jackson, and Max Minghella, lend an air of prestige to the film. It’s a noticeable difference to watch actors of this caliber in a movie of this ilk. Rock, who also pitched the initial idea for the flick, is clearly loving the chance to play a grizzled cop. He imbues Spiral with enough humor to diffuse the tension, but this is still very serious work. Rock brings the screen presence and tension you need here, while putting forth a three dimensional character you want to spend an hour and a half with. Max Minghella plays off of Rock really well, underplaying his young detective’s reactions, while also going for humor at the right points, too. Their chemistry winds up being a real boon to this. As for Samuel L. Jackson, he’s a bit under-used, but has the gravitas to make a smaller yet essential supporting role his own, with just a look or a line. The rest of the cast, including the aforementioned Marisol Nichols are fine, but Jackson, Minghella, and Rock certainly lead the way.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman brings some really bold ideas to the picture, too. Not only is it shot differently than usual, Bousman and cinematographer Jordan Oram accentuate the look of a hot summer day. Spiral takes place often in daylight, which is another departure for the franchise. Sure, the requisite gore and traps of a Saw outing are here, but this looks and feels more like a gritty cop drama. Bousman, Rock, and returning writers Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg aren’t afraid to mess with audience expectations. The same goes for composer Charlie Clouser, who has been at this since the first installment. Instead of a strictly ninth Saw flick, they give you something from the Book of Saw, mixing 48 Hours and Se7en with the perfect amount of echoes of the iconic horror series. In just over 90 minutes, they recharge the course of the franchise in a way that will make you demand another one as soon as humanly possible.
Saw is not known for often delving into real world issues, barring the satire of the sixth outing. This one, however, is actually a fairly timely work. Dirty cops, as well as racial issues, are tackled, with some surprising deftness. Now, Spiral is still a genre flick, and horror at that, so Do the Right Thing this is not, but there’s more than meets the eye here. It’s just one of many factors that separates this one from the rest.
Spiral will blow away fans of the franchise. Moreover, it will please those who have never even given the series a second thought. One of the year’s best movies, it deserves to be a big hit this weekend, re-launching big screen horror. If you love Saw, this is going to be like a warm hug from an old friend who’s gotten a makeover (drenched in blood). Even if you couldn’t care less, the uniqueness of this one makes it worth checking out. I can’t recommend it enough. Spiral: From the Book of Saw, perhaps shockingly, is a home run!