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Spiral: From The Book of Saw

***
2021

‘…if you skip the gore, the police procedural elements actually work well, with Rock an unfamiliar presence and several effective plot twists that I certainly didn’t see coming….’

‘I just discovered that pilates ain’t a thing!’ says Chris Rock in one of a number of amusing deviations from the gnarly plot in this fresh take on the nasty-ass horror universe seen in the Saw movies. Spiral rather pompously announces itself as ‘from the book of Saw’, but totally works as a stand-alone film. I only remember the first Saw film, but Darren Lynn Bousman’s ninth entry in the series feels like a tried and tested mix of police procedural a la Se7en and bursts of deeply horrid torture porn, and will probably satisfy the target audience.

Rock executive produces here and plays Detective Zeke Banks, who is investigating a serial killer who is murdering members of the police force in innovative and unpleasant ways; Theatre of Blood-style, the methods used relate specifically to the corrupt behaviour that the killer wants to punish. Zeke enlists the help of his father Marcus (Samuel L Jackson) in attempting to track down the murderer, but it would be a considerable understatement to report that his investigation does not go well. Pretty much everyone on the force gets captured by a mysterious figure in a mask, and subjected to some kind of horrible physical dilemma; usually involving vital organs being removed at speed while alive. Can Zeke identify the killer before the killer’s game is complete?

Bousman claims to have dialled back the levels of gore and violence here; it’s hard to comment given that I had to watch much of this film with my hands over my eyes. That’s easy enough in the opening, tongue-ripping sequence, but gets trickier as the violent endings become more integrated into the main narrative. Rock gives a remarkably undisciplined performance here, drifting into stand-up riffs about Forrest Gump, or admonishing a colleague about phone use ‘Don’t use up the battery watching Twilight!’, a line we hear twice. That jovial tone works against the atmosphere of dread that Spiral is supposedly working towards; if you skip the gore, the police procedural elements actually work well, with Rock an unfamiliar presence and several effective plot twists that I certainly didn’t see coming.

Spiral feels hastily put together; with flashbacks and edits out of place, it might be interesting to see a director’s cut to sort out some of the glitches. But Spiral is a more interesting movie than it has to be, and ingeniously uses elements of Saw while describing a different if similar situation. It’s cruel, mechanical, and grim as a Jacobean tragedy; if nothing else, an exciting final shot sets Spiral up for more grisly manifestations in the future.

Spiral is out now in cinemas in the US and UK. Thanks to Lionsgate for the advance screener.

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  1. As a Saw fan who remembers seeing some of these on halloween,This film is not great. These movies have a bunch of components. The key components to a good saw film is the backstory of Kramer, the traps, and trying to kind of guess along with what the twist might be. For example, in JigSaw, the movie did a good job of at least creating reasonable suspicion as to who might be the killer. This movie does literally nothing to create suspicion, it just throws it out there at the end. Was it surprising? I think if you’ve seen all these films, you might have been surprised, but really it just felt random. The traps clearly took from the later films where winning wasn’t really an option, which is disappointing. I am not saying I thought John Kramer was a good guy, but at least he believed he was. You could kind of empathize with him. The new bad guy was just in it for vengeance. But, I thought Rock was a pretty decent, and it wasn’t a terrible movie. It just wasn’t a good Saw movie.

  2. This film is less gratuitous torture porn than its predecessors. I liked it. It was a decent anti corrupt cop film. The only I didn’t care for was the cheesy voice used for the pig puppet.

    • I liked it to, and have been recommending it just to people who like a good hard cop movie. Not sure if the bad guy is always a anti-corruption vigilante in these films, but it worked here for sure.

      • the original Saw series was also about corruption but the new angle specifically about law enforcement brilliant. I wouldn’t be surprised in future installments if any Judges, Lawyers, Prison officials, hell maybe even politicians become targets.

  3. a modern variation on gladiatorial games I guess . . . I do love a monster film, but this torture porn stuff never seems to have an outlet besides over-doing the last one. It’s like weight training, just keep adding a bit more until you expire. Rock being the only element of interest here. Let’s check the news on Ethiopia . . . Yeesh.

    • I thought Rock was of interest here, and presumably he felt it would allow him to transition to more dramatic roles. But he leaves a lot of comic riffs in, for who knows? I shouldn’t say too much given that I hid from the nasty ass bits…

  4. An annoying, often unfunny, comedian playing the lead in a horror? Sounds like it should work.

    I sort of imagine Alex to look more like a mauled Mason Verger – I know it’s a favourite film of yours.

    • Put your mask over your eyes for the grim bits; the cop scenes are the bits that I thought far exceeded genre requirements.

  5. Any time anyone uses the term “torture porn” in regards to a film, I know it’s not for me. So the Saw franchise was out for me from the very get-go.

    How do you watch a movie with your hands over your eyes? I’d just stop watching at that point and call it a day.

  6. The scrambling of flashbacks is a signature of the series. They’re notoriously hard to figure out.

    I was really surprised when I saw Rock’s and Jackson’s names attached to this one. I’m sure I’ll see this just because I saw all the others and in for a penny . . . plus I’m curious to see if they have any new direction to go in or if it’s just more of the same.

    • I really enjoyed what I saw. It’s Beverley Hills Cop meets Saw, and by the final scene, I was into it. There’s some very odd edits here that are hard to explain, even with a slight of hand narrative. I did think the kills got less interesting as we go on…

      • I’m just concerned that the library hasn’t been good at stocking the Saw movies thus far. Plus I’m pissed off that there have been three more Saw movies since I got the Complete Saw Collection on DVD. It’s hard to keep up.

        • Do the library have a remit to keep you in Saw movies? How is this a public service? Who funds this? Why is it important?

          • I pay taxes. I don’t need them to order forty copies of My Favourite Dragon. Saw fans need representation too. Are we second-class citizens?

            • I think so. So as a taxpayer, you can request whatever torture porn your perverted heart desires, and they have to serve it up? How does this help society? Keeps you off the streets, I suppose.

              • Well I for one refuse to be Saw-shamed. I’m not wearing a raincoat and a floppy hat to borrow Saw movies. I want equal treatment before the law.

                    • Why should other, right-minded citizens, fund your perversions? Would be nice for your library to have Reya for families to enjoy. Not the kind of depraved filth that swivel-eyed freaks like you enjoy in your Hills Have Eyes commune…

                    • This kind of thinking takes us down the slippery slope of no one wanting to pay for anything enjoyed by anyone else. Which leads to defunding everyone. And who would empty your bins then, hm? We know you can’t do that work yourself because you look down on it.

                    • Yes, but lots of people might enjoy Reya, but only a few defective hermits are likely to share your taste. I put my own bins out, sunshine, I just don’t live in them like you do.

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