Originally scheduled for release in the Summer of last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been a long road to Spiral: From the Book of Saw‘s release. In some ways, it doesn’t feel like it has been that long a wait. Maybe it’s because the seven year gap between Saw 3D and Jigsaw, or maybe it’s because the outbreak has brought so much to a standstill, making Spiral’s release feel trivial at best. Whichever, I was excited and interested in Spiral.
In spite what I may say about them, and I’ve certainly said a lot about them, I enjoy the Saw franchise. Unabashedly, I might add. I have seen all of them and I have even played both videogames from start to end. They aren’t perfect, but I have fun with them. They’re the Fast & the Furious of the horror world.
In spite of that, like the usual throwaway slasher sequel, I find myself wanting more for the series, hopeful it will reach its potential, even if it never truly has does.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw felt like the realest chance we have ever had of that. Spiral sees the inclusion of Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Rock to the fray. Agreed, both may’ve had some duds in their career, as any longstanding artist has, but they’re names that definitely raise eyebrows and catch my attention. Especially Chris Rock, whose acting I’ve more often associated with comedy and less with more serious subject matter (or wherever Saw falls by now – certainly calling them serious films has to come with an asterisk of some kind).
Another thing, and this is off-topic, but this is the first film of the Saw series I’ve seen in a theater, and, more than that, it is the first film I’ve seen in theaters since the pandemic. If nothing else, it’s neat to finally return to what was once a very special part of my life.
In spite what marketing might have suggested to you and what the director might have said in interviews, Spiral: From the Book of Saw is hardly separated from the Saw series, whether we refer to it as Spiral or not, the film itself, beat-by-beat, is both thematically and narratively inline with the rest of them. This is Saw IX, and whether we call it that or not is a matter of semantics. Plainly put, it feels like another Saw film, not a spin-off or new direction, not really. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, director of Saw 3, 4, and 5, and the writers of Jigsaw, Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger, a lot of everyone behind the scenes remain.
This does not have to a be a death sentence for the film’s prospect of restoring the Saw franchise to whatever form of glory it once achieved, and really, it isn’t. Straightaway, something I was both curious and worried by what the inclusion of Chris Rock as the film’s main-protagonist. As much as I am interested in Chris Rock making a dramatic, gritty turn, I could not help but think back about the cringeworthy attempts at humor the series tried to incorporate with the Jigsaw film.
Thankfully though, the answer to whether Rock would play it straight or try and inject humor into the film ended up as somewhere in the middle for Spiral, and I think it might’ve been better for it. Chris Rock’s character is a lot in this film, with exaggerated characteristics, with the grizzled, back-against-the-wall detective role cranked up to eleven. He is estranged from his wife and has a chip on his shoulder because his father’s illustrious legacy on the force. Not only that, but, years earlier, he rightfully reported a fellow police officer’s misconduct, and now, everyone down at the precinct thinks he is a snitch and a traitor.
If you’ve stayed with the series so far, you’ve learned the series is a little melodramatic, and oftentimes feels more like a really old-school cop show blended with a lot of bloodshed. This has been a fixture since the very start. Simply put, the Saw franchise has never found a cliché it didn’t implement. Personally though, I don’t mind that. It feels vaguely nostalgic and thematic, and even if it doesn’t exactly have a lot of nuance, at its best, it’s something easy to get behind. Mostly, I liked Chris Rock’s portrayal in this film, I liked Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal as his father, and I liked more-or-less everyone else in the film as well in terms of performances. They’re par for the course and fully serviceable to the film. It isn’t exactly the highest hurdle to leap, but Spiral is more than likely the mostly consistently well-acted film of the series.
Mind you, Tobin Bell still, by far, brings the best performance across the series, and his presence is sorely missed. Likewise, Billy the Puppet is nowhere to be found as well.
The storyline is predictable, but I enjoyed it.
The classic “Saw” twist is easy to see from a mile away, and yet, I still enjoyed the attention to detail and singling out the foreshadowing dialogue routinely embedded in each installment. I can’t say for certain whether it is because it was done slyer than prior (poet and you didn’t know it) or if my heart’s grown fonder for Saw’s shtick, but it was more potent in this film.
The traps and brutality remain a fixture in Spiral, but I would argue they’re a backseat to our series’ new antagonist and their mind-games and contrivances. Likewise, while our antagonist is easy to predict, and likely so are their motives, I found them potent, well-executed, and formed. Sometimes a storyline can be predictable and the ride is still enjoyable, so long as it is compounded by other good ideas, of which, I think this film has. There’re a handful of segments in the Saw series that have caught me off-guard. “The key’s in the bathtub,” for instance, or killing John Kramer off in the third film. I was also taken by surprise by that scene when Mark Hoffman brutalized everyone with a small blade and a cup of coffee. Although the “who’s” in Spiral may not have caught me off-guard, I found myself surprised and entertained by the “how’s”. They were silly, far-fetched, and over-the-top, but also entertaining and, more importantly, fun.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw may not be the reinvention of the Saw formula we long for, but, for fans of the series, I’d put it up there with Saw, Saw III, and Saw V, as among the best the series has to offer.