I know, I know, what do we expect from a film that is clearly trying to do the impossible. The Spiral: From the Book of Saw maybe contains a few bits referring to the big franchise, but if you buy your ticket to the latest Darren Lynn Bousman movie, FYI: do not expect too much nostalgia. Bousman has directed three Saw episodes before, and as a result, the mood of the film almost successfully replicates the world we already know. Screenwriter Josh Stolberg described the film as „not a sequel, but it has a definite place in the franchise timeline”. Let’s see what they came up with.
The story is simple: Our hero is homicide detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), who needs to work in the shadow of his father, former police captain Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson). He is treated as a traitor because he ratted out a dirty cop in the past, so he does not get that much respect at work. After a sting operation, as a punishment, he is getting a rookie, William Schenk (Max Minghella), as his new partner while also investigating the mysterious death of a mutual colleague. The clues are eerily similar to the Jigsaw murders that happened earlier in the city, and it turns out that the culprit (who must be a copycat, since Kramer is already dead) is hunting down guilty cops, leaving Zeke and his partners to race against time in the investigation.
Legend has it that Chris Rock, known as a comedian, went for the Saw rights because he was a big fan and saw potential in it. The viewers would probably disagree with this decision, as the story is complete so far, and the last two episodes have already flopped big time. Making another movie after the previous ones, which were built on each other and fully connected, is a risky business, and the creators felt this and tried to convince the fans of the series on various forums that „no, this is not going to be the 9th Saw”, and then somehow pushed the promo for it as „of course it is going to be”. And we got this miracle.
Although it doesn’t fit into the logical chain, it is impossible to rate Spiral without the other episodes, but we should also remember that the film market has completely changed, since the first Saw release in 2004. The market is filling to the brim with psycho/horror/thriller/etc., films released in the last decade. Because of this, the public is no longer hungry for more brutal atrocities from a vigilante killer, especially when it comes to a franchise that has eight episodes already.
The biggest mistake of this film is that in an hour and a half it tries to convince the viewer that it has as much firepower as the entire franchise. But it fails. You could see that Rock wanted to do it right – perhaps that’s why he often almost embarrassingly overacted his character. Samuel L. Jackson didn’t have enough screen time to add to the story and to explain why he was specifically in it, and the others are probably not worth mentioning. They were there, the cast was complete, nobody was missing, the stereotypical recipe-for-success characters were there, but their brief appearance did little to make any particular impact.
The story is so flat, clichéd, and obvious that more experienced film fans can tell who the killer is about a third of the way through. The traps are all right, but there are several flaws in them, the villain’s motivation seems a bit punchy, so the drawn-out plot twist is more confusing than astonishing or unsettling. There is no particular complaint about the pacing, but they had to hurry things, to pack all the necessary elements into a staggeringly short 93 minutes.
Its tiny nostalgic touches – the music, the pig costume, the spiral, the traps, the cryptic messages, as they are leading the characters by their noses – seem like an effort. But at the same time, they create a legal basis for questioning: How can this be a Saw movie if nothing is right with it? It feels like you are turning two pages in a cookbook. You have the ingredients, but it just doesn’t add up. It’s weak for a horror, anemic for a crime, underwhelming for a Saw – so what is it? It’s a despicable attempt to hide behind a hit franchise and lie about “What a good film we’re making for you”. This film is a tragedy, not just in parts, but as a whole as well.
Maybe if we didn’t know the history. Maybe if it wasn’t a comedian trying to play a burnt-out cop for enthusiasm. Maybe if the story could stand up without the Saw references. Maybe… maybe.
How long we’ve been waiting for it! It’s a shame.