Eleven years after the release of Saw: The Final Chapter and four years after Jigsaw negated the former’s title, comes Spiral, the ninth installment in the Saw franchise.
Spiral’s full title implies that it is “From the Book of Saw.” What that means is still unclear to me. What is clear to me is that the long-running franchise still has some steam left in it.
Spiral follows Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), a police officer who is not well liked by his peers due to turning in a fellow officer in the past. To make things more difficult, Zeke lives in the shadow of his father, former Police Chief, Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson, who is in far too little of the movie). Due to his rogue nature, Zeke is tasked with what every rogue cop in a movie is tasked with: partnering with a rookie!
After his close friend on the force is found dead, Zeke begs for him and new partner, William (Max Minghella), to be put on the case. Zeke wants to find out who is responsible and bring them to justice. They quickly realize that they are in for much more than they bargained for. They are dealing with a copycat Jigsaw killer, who is targeting officers on the force.
Like in Comedy, the Most Important Element of Horror is Timing
First we had Jordan Peele with Get Out and Us. Then we had John Krasinski with A Quiet Place. Later that year, Danny McBride with Halloween. Now we have Chris Rock with Spiral. I’m not sure where this trend of people primarily known for comedy dipping their toes in the horror genre came from but I like it. It consistently yields interesting results.
One reason, I suspect, is the fact that timing is vital to the success of both genres. A good scare, like a good laugh, comes when all elements align perfectly. The tension builds and builds before reaching a crescendo of terror. Similarly, a joke has to be set up and then delivered perfectly for maximum impact.
They may seem like completely different genres, but this similarity is enough to extinguish that idea completely. Understanding the importance of set-up and delivery working in unison is the difference between becoming a timeless horror film and playing exclusively on the Sy-Fy channel at 2:00 AM. Luckily, Rock, along with the more horror-experienced crew understand this and execute their deliveries in a manner that makes Spiral a worthy entry into the Saw franchise and into the genre, as a whole.
Despite being an enjoyable watch, Spiral does lose points for lack of creativity on the story front. The creativity may have been exhausted on the inspired kills (more on that later), with none leftover to make the plot less conventional. As mentioned before, it has a very familiar premise of rogue cop who likes to work alone is forced to work with a rookie on a murder investigation. It is truly a tale as old as time.
What makes the premise feel even more unimaginative here is that it is clearly emulating other films. I would be amazed to find out that the director/writers were not working off of Se7en directly. David Fincher’s classic 1995 film is one of the best examples of the rogue/rookie cop pairing. By framing Spiral‘s story around the hunt for the killer by law enforcement, rather than the victims and the games they are forced to play, the movie makes it impossible not to make such a comparison. Se7en had the Jigsaw-type murders before Dr. Gordon ever put a saw to his ankle. Focusing this one on the police officers only makes that comparison all the more obvious.
It’s not the worst idea in the world to base your movie off of a different, beloved film. But when you do, you open it up to comparisons and those comparisons may not be favorable. This movie does have enough unpredictability and style going for it that the comparison does not completely hurt it, as it would lesser films. That being said, Spiral shines exactly where one would expect a Saw film to shine: the kills.
Let’s face it: the Saw franchise is primarily known for its intricate kills. Spiral is no different. Since the unforgettable original film, the franchise has gotten more and more complex. Both in story and the way that its victims meet their demise. Each film is riddled with different horror set pieces, each one more convoluted than the last.
In Spiral, fans are “treated” to several memorable, gnarly, nightmare-inducing kills. The kind that makes you want to close your eyes but forces you to keep watching. They are bloody, gory, and downright upsetting. They left me sick to my stomach in the best way possible.
Setting Itself Apart
In order to justify its existence, the ninth film in a franchise has to do something different than the rest. Even if it is clearly inspired by other movies, Spiral definitely sets itself apart from the rest of the Saw franchise. As mentioned above, Spiral is less focused on Jigsaw, or in this case, the copycat, and its victims.
Instead, it is set up like a mystery film. We aren’t just passively aware of the killer. Almost like an episode of a procedural cop show airing at 8:00 PM on CBS every Wednesday, we are actively trying to hunt them down. Despite being a part of the Saw franchise, Spiral is very much its own movie and stands by itself in that regard.
Additionally, the movie has a nice balance of humor to lighten the mood. It’s unsurprising, considering the film stars Chris Rock. It is a little surprising, though, how much they allow Chris Rock to be Chris Rock. The introduction to his character sees him riffing on Forrest Gump for a few minutes before an undercover job. Knowing Rock’s strengths really comes into play here.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman encourages Rock to do what he does best. He injects some much needed comedy into the film. The premises of these films are ridiculous and by letting Chris Rock be his Chris Rockiest self, we feel the levity that is necessary in between the consequential moments and the revolting murders.
Bring on #10
Spiral was never going to set the world on fire. It is the ninth installment in a franchise that has been around for almost 17 years. It is way better than that sentence may lead you to believe. The movie has its flaws but it also has everything that Saw fans have come to expect.
It’s funny, it’s gory, and it’s full of twists and turns to keep you on your toes. It even works as a standalone movie, which is an impressive feat. For that, I am recommending this movie for those who can handle its graphic nature. It’s not perfect but it is an enjoyably twisted film that will leave you guessing until the end. As the credits start to roll, I guarantee that you will be looking forward to the tenth film in the Saw franchise.