Let’s get a little personal here. I remember seeing the original Saw when it came to theaters. I wasn’t the film’s biggest fan, but I appreciated its final twist. It didn’t matter if you figured it out ahead of time, or not. It was well conceived and delivered. As the subsequent films went down the money train path, devout fans were treated to some more out of the box twists and turns that thrilled and shocked them. But, much like the Final Destination franchise, the horror fanbase lined up for inventive kills and strange traps that tortured Jigsaw’s victims into a choice of death or becoming a better person. Now comes Spiral, a new chapter in the Saw franchise that comes with good intentions, but falls flat on its face as it attempts to steer the ship into the waters of social awareness.
Detective Zeke Banks(Chris Rock) has painted himself into a corner when it comes to his career in the police department. The son of the former police chief, Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), Zeke was shunned by the rest of the department when he snitched out a dirty cop; his partner at the time, non-the-less. No one wants to work with him, and he wants to work alone. So, when Captain Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols) teams Zeke up with rookie detective William Schenk (Max Minghella), Zeke is clearly not happy about it. After taking their first call together, Zeke and Will find themselves in charge of a case that looks to be the work of a Jigsaw copycat killer who is targeting dirty cops. Who is behind these crimes? Is Jigsaw really dead? Is there another disciple out there?
First things, first. Putting all the social commentary to the side for a moment; Spiral is exactly what I thought it would be, and what I was hoping it would not…a totally predictable and doltish affair. It has come to the point where everything I say sounds like a broken record–but 15 minutes into the film, a single line of dialogue marks the clear and obvious villain. Spotlight on, top hat and cane in hand; “Hello Mr. Bad Man, we know it’s you. Can we wrap this up quickly please? I haven’t eaten dinner yet and skipped lunch.” As an extra insult, all the red herring characters that are still alive by the end of the film, just disappear, as if they never existed in the universe. The big reveal just breezes in for a quick and very messy (not a pun about blood and guts) finale.
The biggest mistake Spiral makes though, is existing in the Saw universe. I’m not saying that this film removed from the world of Jigsaw makes it a good movie. Though, by playing in the James Wan/Leigh Whannell sandbox, Spiral has to relegate itself into a certain frame of presentation. If it were its own property, there would be room for more artistic and smart decisions to move the plot in a direction that would make the the story more poignant than it comes across here. There’s nothing wrong with mixing your social message into a horror film. In fact, I think the best social commentaries made by movies come in the form of genre films.
Tying this story to the “Book of Saw,” though, deflates the point for the most part. Sure, it’s obvious that we’re talking about dirty cops and an extreme, perverse idea of police reform. But, for 80 minutes of a 90 minute film, it is simply just a movie about a possible copycat killer targeting cops. Then, it leaves its audience with a very direct, blatant, almost cartoonish representation of some current events. That final beat is certainly a truth about the current state of affairs here in the U.S., but presented in an over-the-top fashion. I’m trying not to spoil anything or be too specific, but even as we live through the real horrors of situations like the death of Breonna Taylor; tacking on an series of events that still seem unbelievable even for a horror film, doesn’t work when the tone of what precedes it is a miss-match.
It is tough to gauge what Saw fans will make of Spiral. Those going into it looking for innovative and elaborate death traps should be pleased. The film does contain both “clever” devices, and a fair amount of gore for those who want that. Chris Rock does well to hold the atmosphere together while getting his signature style of dialogue into the piece. It will be interesting to see what diehard Jigsaw fans take away from the film once all the pieces are put together, but I have a feeling it will make more people angry than happy. After all is said and done, Spiral could have been its own property that would have had a better chance of exploring the strange vicious cycle we are living in. Instead, it sold its soul to make bank off the, “Name of Saw.”
Final Grade: D+