VOD film review: Spiral: From the Book of Saw
Ivan Radford | On 27, Jun 2021
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Cast: Chris Rock, Samuel L Jackson, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols
Where to watch Spiral online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
When is a Saw movie not a Saw movie? If “featuring the actual Jigsaw Killer” was the defining characteristic, then the Saw franchise arguably stopped being Saw quite a while ago, with Tobin Bell’s original antagonist appearing in flashbacks or via collaborators and apprentices for most of the series’ sequels. Spiral, which comes with the epithet “From the Book of Saw”, is another move away from the origins of the franchise – and that brings with it a surprisingly fresh note given it’s the ninth film in the series.
The first step is to switch the focus to the investigation side of things, with an added emphasis on the police attempting to track down the copycat killer bumping off victims in the manner of Jigsaw. The thing that connects them? They’re all connected to the justice system, from lawmen to cops, and are being punished for the corrupt sins of their past. For Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), the one straight cop left in his compromised department, it’s a particularly personal matter – not least because he’s grieving the death of his partner, made possible by the lack of support from his colleagues, not to mention the fact that his dad, Marcus (Samuel L Jackson), is a former badge-holder with a reputation.
Chris Rock? Samuel L Jackson? These aren’t the kind of names you normally associate with Saw, and that starry cast lends a note of class to proceedings – the film is at its strongest when it’s just them two talking, father to son. That in itself is telling, because the more the movie sinks back into Saw territory, the weaker it gets.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman, who helmed Saw II, III and IV, is no stranger to the torture porn stylings of the Saw films, and will deliver enough grisly traps to please those still somehow hankering for more nastiness almost 20 years on from the first outing. But the aesthetic elsewhere is more akin to David Fincher’s Seven, with a sickly yellow sheen adding to the grubby crime thriller vibe. Support from Max Minghella as rookie detective William and Marisol Nichols as the strong-minded captain Angie helps to establish that half of this genre mash-up.
While the plotting itself may not surprise – and borders on improbable when you consider how each of these traps have been set up – it does add a sense of purpose and drive to each killing, which lends some weight to the script by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger (Jigsaw, Piranha 3D). Throw in a gruffly serious turn from Rock, plus a couple of signature rants, and the result is an uneven horror sequel but a promising indication of where Saw could go from here, if there were another sequel.