In 2010, we saw the release of Saw: The Final Chapter. That has since proven not to be the case – Jigsaw came out in 2017, and now we’ve a new Saw out in cinemas. Spiral makes an actual effort to move on and chart a new direction for the franchise while retaining many of the series’ quirks. It does both, but exactly how successfully is a matter for debate, resulting in an average film that fails to really make the most of its premise. Detective Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Banks (Chris Rock) and his new rookie partner, William Schenk (Max Minghella), are assigned an unpleasant case on their first day working together: a police officer has been killed, murdered in a manner similar to a Jigsaw trap, and it soon appears that a copycat killer may be on the loose. As the duo investigate, they discover secrets about the city’s past as they battle a killer eager to play games with their police precinct.
An average film that fails to really make the most of its premise
The film was a passion project for Rock, and it’s clear he’s having a fun time with the role, imbuing it with perhaps more character than the script allows. In many ways, Zeke is your usual maverick cop, but Rock balances gravitas with little humour, making him one of the series’ most engaging leads. The supporting cast does a serviceable job, but I must mention (and it feels bizarre saying this in a review for the ninth instalment of a horror franchise) the appearance of Samuel L Jackson as Zeke’s father and a retired police chief. He brings his star power and, for many, the chance to hear him demand ‘you wanna play a game, motherfucker?’ will be worth the price of admission alone.
Despite certain attempts to break free from the past, Spiral is definitely a Saw film. We’ve got the traps, and they’re customarily unpleasant and effective – there’s one involving hot wax that I thought was particularly good – but the focus of the script is a murder mystery plot instead. We’ve got puppets and pig masks, and the frenetic editing style. Darren Lynn Bousman returns to the series, and his direction is good; there are some great tracking shots, including a stroll through a metro station. He’s a veteran of Saw films, and a steady hand for what is perhaps the series’ widest divergence from the norm. Of course, we’ve got a reprise of Charlie Clouser’s ‘Hello Zepp’, which is essentially the series’ theme music at this point. In an unusual twist, however, the music doesn’t accompany the film’s inevitable twist ending. I should probably mention the ending – twists are a staple part of the Saw series, but Spiral’s simply doesn’t land at all.
Spiral is definitely a Saw film
Because the film is essentially a murder mystery, it should come as no surprise that the twist reveal is essentially who did it, but you’ll have worked it out long before that – if you can’t figure it out, it’s likely you’ve never seen a film before. The motivation is bizarre, and it feels like Spiral wants to make a wider point, but it doesn’t manage it, and then we wrap up with one of the most surreal deaths I’ve seen in a Saw film.
Spiral is a film that feels like it wants to say something. This is not new to the series – Saw V explored healthcare in the middle of the Obamacare negotiations, and had some twisted fun with it. Spiral is a film taking a really pessimistic look at police corruption and brutality, and it feels unusually prescient given that it was put into production in 2019. Yet, despite its best efforts, there’s no sense of any message other than ‘police brutality is bad’; I wouldn’t normally call out a film like this for not having a message, but if it’s so desperate to flash one, it needs to be coherent.
I wouldn’t normally call out a film like this for not having a message, but if it’s so desperate to flash one, it needs to be coherent
Although it feels like I’m slating the film, the truth is that I really enjoyed it. As the Saw series devolved into torture porn with only the vaguest semblances of plot, the audience split – you knew what you were getting, and you either loved it or hated it. I loved it, and so this ninth instalment was right up my street. If you’re a fan of Saw, you’re going to love Spiral. If not, you’ll have to weigh up whether the attraction of big stars and effective gore outweighs the weak and ultimately lumbering script. Personally, I think Spiral will engage you, but there’s not too much in the way of substance.