Well, this is a strange one. After the grisly Saw series wrapped up its complex and overarching narrative in the now-humorously titled seventh film Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, seven years later brought yet another sequel in 2017’s Jigsaw. I’m a Saw apologist – you can see my thoughts on the entire series here – but even I will admit even Jigsaw was a trap too far. And yet, we now have another film joining the series…and it’s frankly beginning to get a little absurd.
According to star and key creative, celebrated comedian Chris Rock, Spiral: From the Book of Saw came about from a chance meeting with the vice chairman of Lionsgate Michael Burns at a friend’s wedding in Brazil. Rock felt doing something with horror would be a new avenue for his career, so he approached with his ideas of extending the Saw franchise, a series he loves – and now, years later, the result of this bizarre collaboration is here.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is, narratively speaking, a pretty trite and cliché-ridden police procedural that follows Detective Ezekiel Banks (Rock) taking charge of an investigation into a series of murders that seem to be the work of a Jigsaw Killer copycat. But it is ultimately the film that feels like a copycat, desperately trying to capture the raw power of the earlier Saw films with the gruesome traps and intricate plotting that we’ve come to know and love from the series. But the convoluted and predictable final product is an uncomfortably empty thriller that, despite being billed as a passion project for Rock, lacks much passion at all. Rock’s acting bounces wildly between cringe-worthy overacting to seeming like he just doesn’t care, while the love for previous films in the series just isn’t there. References are very limited – and often bizarrely incorrect to the canon – feeling often like an afterthought, almost as if they’ve been crowbarred into a bog-standard police thriller as a way to sell more tickets as a Saw film.
Returning director Darren Lynn Bousman (who helmed parts 2 through 4 of the series) certainly does his best with the material, while the sun-soaked visuals and bigger setting is certainly an interesting contrast to the green-tinted, grimy interiors of the earlier films. The big budget is felt throughout – certainly in the casting, with a sleepwalking Samuel L. Jackson offering some of his trademark F-bombs as Rock’s ex-police chief father. Attempts to inject some moral complexities and timely themes – police corruption, racism, etc. – are forced and heavy-handed, and undeveloped in equal measure, desperately trying to inject some thought-provoking messages into a film that is built around overtly violent torture.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is just an unusual project. Flash back to 2004 when the first film came out to rave reviews – I don’t think anybody would’ve believed you if you’d said that in almost 20 years, Chris Rock will be the face of the ninth film in the series. Honestly, Spiral is just a bit rubbish. The traps are unimaginative, the twists are basically advertised with neon lights 45 minutes before they’re revealed (and unceremoniously and blandly revealed at that), the acting is hammy, and the structure is all over the place. It’s a mess. And yet, I still enjoyed watching it. Maybe that’s just the devout Saw fan in me enjoying the nostalgia of hearing that theme in the cinema again. It certainly wasn’t the quality of the film, that was frankly rather dire. But then again, it’s a Saw film. It does exactly what it says on the tin. It does it badly, but hey, it ticks all the boxes. Who can ask for more?
SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW is out now in cinemas.