‘Spiral’ Is a Lousy Attempt at Reviving a Franchise That Should Stay Dead

Courtesy of Lionsgate

I hadn’t planned to write about Spiral: From the Book of Saw. It was a movie I saw about a month ago and almost immediately forgot about. The online discourse about how the Saw movies are good, actually, escaped me entirely because I simply did not care about it. However, upon noticing the film is now available to rent on all the streaming platforms, I figured that if my review could dissuade one person from wasting $20 on a rental of Spiral, it will have done its job.

Spiral follows detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), who is investigating a string of murders that seem to mimic the torture-killings of infamous serial killer Jigsaw, who is now deceased. Nobody really trusts Zeke, and this is partly due to his own grizzled demeanor and partly due to his connection with his father (Samuel L. Jackson), another prolific detective with a past who is now retired. But as the authorities move in on the suspect, the stakes become more personal and brutal.

I don’t really know what I was expecting here. Look, the Saw movies have never been any good. They always kind of look like crap stylistically and have no real story, just a lot of torture porn set pieces. But there’s usually some kind of fun in the onscreen agony of the people unfortunate enough to fall into Jigsaw’s traps – I’m still mentally scarred by the scene where the former junkie is trapped in the glass box full of needles and has to find a poison’s antidote before it’s too late. And usually the person has a shot of getting out of their trap, which isn’t the case in this movie. Having the victim doomed to failure/death to begin with really lessens the stakes here.

Apparently, Chris Rock walked into the Lionsgate offices begging to get this made, and apparently his pitch was good enough for the Lionsgate suits to think, yeah, let’s dust the cobwebs off this franchise and maybe this thing will make us some money again. This is the same Lionsgate that deemed Spiral essential for theatrical distribution and threw the wonderful Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar to the streaming wolves. After this last year, I bet their CEO is getting fired. I also don’t think I’ve ever seen Chris Rock worse than he is here. He’s totally flat, and he doesn’t have the range to sell anything dramatic and this ultimately feels like a very strange and misguided idea conceptually. There are a few moments where he seems to randomly workshop some standup material, and at least that’s kind of fun?

Darren Lynn Bousman has that Tyler Perry thing of having directed like 20 movies and still not knowing where to put the camera. Bousman returns to the franchise after directing Saw 2, 3 and 4 and you can tell he really wanted to do something here. Shooting it in these washed out sepia tones, he really wants this to feel like an episode of True Detective – like elevated B-movie material, and I think he totally fails. Like every other Saw movie, this looks like shit and feels like it cost $5 to make. You just feel disgusting after watching it, and that somehow has nothing to do with the scenes where people get their limbs ripped off.

Spiral is 90 minutes long and feels like an eternity. It adds an incredibly dull police procedural story and takes the nasty fun away from the grotesqueness onscreen. It also tries to add some kind of social commentary about police violence in America that completely falls flat on its ass and would also have fallen flat a year ago when this was supposed to release, but is magnified after all of the horrific police brutality of the last year. The confusing message of ‘well, police officers are all corrupt but not the one who’s the protagonist, but yeah, maybe him too, but you’re still supposed to root for him at the end’ is nonsensical. This message is so muddled and murky I’m not even sure what it was trying to say. After John Lee Hancock’s The Little Things and now this, I think I’m good on cop movies for awhile. And Spiral naturally ends in a place where it’s clear they want to do more of these, but I say it’s time to put this series out of its misery.

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