13th May2021

‘Spiral: From The Book of Saw’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, Daniel Petronijevic, Richard Zeppieri, Patrick McManus, Edie Inksetter, Thomas Mitchell, Nazneen Contractor, K. C. Collins | Written by Josh Stolberg, Pete Goldfinger | Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

Superfan Chris Rock reboots the death-trap-based Saw franchise with this spin-off torture horror that plays like a detective thriller. The result isn’t perfect, but it ticks enough of the right boxes to get the job done.

Chris Rock (who also served as producer and clearly had a hand in the script) stars as Detective Zeke Banks, a loner who’s been the pariah of his police department ever since he turned in a dirty cop for shooting a witness. That precinct-wide resentment isn’t helped by the fact that he’s also the son of revered – and now retired – former head of the Metro police, Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson).

However, Zeke’s fellow cops are forced to rally behind him when a serial killer begins targeting corrupt officers, killing them with ingenious torture devices that are clearly inspired by the work of long dead Jigsaw killer John Kramer (Tobin Bell appears in photographs, but that’s the only connection to the previous eight movies). Along with eager-to-please rookie William Schenk (Max Minghella), Zeke pursues the copycat killer, who’s all too happy to leave a trail of clues.

Spiral: From The Book of Saw is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, a smart choice, as he previously helmed three of the previous Saw movies, including one of the best ones (Saw II). Accordingly, the death-trap torture devices are every bit as grisly as the franchise dictates, each presenting the victim with the usual dilemma, e.g. lose your tongue or get hit by an oncoming train, lose your fingers or get electrocuted, that sort of thing.

Similarly, Rock and Bousman are savvy enough to know that people coming to see Saw are coming to see gore, so there’s plenty of the red stuff sloshing about, as well as a number of scenes that are decidedly not for the squeamish. To that end, the effects work is excellent – you’ll believe a man’s fingers are being pulled off in excruciating fashion, etc.

The film also looks decent, courtesy of cinematographer Jordan Oram, who makes the outside shots unusually sunny, in stark contrast to the thematic darkness of whatever’s going on in Jigsaw 2.0’s various basements. In particular, Spiral makes strong use of bright colour, from the mint green shades of the boxes all the clues come in to the memorably bright pink of a severed tongue.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its fair share of problems. Chris Rock tries hard, but that’s part of the problem – you can see him trying and it’s often distracting. The supporting cast are better value – notably Riverside’s Marisol Nichols as Zeke’s boss, Captain Garza – but Samuel L. Jackson is criminally underused as Zeke’s dad.

In fairness, the script has a couple of nice ideas – the main thing it brings to the franchise is the connecting thread of the corrupt cops and their crime-appropriate death-trap punishments (losing a tongue because of repeated false testimony, etc). However, it’s also frustratingly underdeveloped and it’s easy to see how much better it could have been with a judicious rewrite or two, especially with regard to commenting on systemic corruption, brutality or racism in the police force.

**½  2.5/5

Spiral: From The Book of Saw is released in the UK on May 17th.


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