SPIRAL Revives the Stalwart Series

The Book of Jigsaw adds a fun new chapter with the help of Chris Rock

Hell yeah, Saw is back baby.

Set in the world created by James Wan and Leigh Whannell, but not a direct sequel, Spiral: From the Book of Saw takes up the mantle of Saw and gives it a fresh spin. A killer, inspired by Tobin Bell’s iconic Jigsaw, terrorizes a police precinct with devious and clinical efficiency. Spiral almost plays as a meta commentary on copycats, but it manages to carve out a fresh space in this nearly 20 year old series.

Chris Rock, who helped shape the story, stars as Detective Zeke Banks. He’s an outcast among his peers for taking a stand against a dirty officer, and has spent the rest of his time as a pariah. The hardened vet gets a rookie partner in Detective Schrenk (Max Minghella), and the two end up as the leads on a new Jigsaw disciple after one of the officers in their unit is killed in a uniquely gory and metaphorical manner.

Then, the tapes arrive. Bell’s gravely voice is replaced by a modulated voice that sounds something like a less playful, post-puberty Kermit the Frog. But the message is still the same: figure out this riddle and save a life, or die trying. As the cat and mouse game escalates, the cleverness of Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger’s script comes to the fore. The killer’s target is corrupt police, which gives the film more political bite than you’d think. In a way, the movie is about how monsters are created. It’s an effective way to relaunch the series in a way that should appeal to long time fans and newcomers alike.

As he showed on the Fargo TV series, Rock is more than capable of handling dramatic material. Zeke is a world weary character, and Rock mostly pulls that off, outside of a couple clumsy, police procedural cliches that pop up. Also in the mix is Samuel L. Jackson, playing the father of Zeke. The two get a handful of scenes together, but there should’ve been more. They’re fun and give the film a spark when they’re on screen.

Spiral benefits a great deal from Darren Lynn Bousman’s return to the director’s chair. Bousman anchored Saw II and Saw III, the best of the sequels, and his absence can be felt over the subsequent entries. Bousman is as much an architect of this world as Wan and Whannell, and he delivers a movie that honors the series’ legacy and relaunches it for new viewers. It’s still as gory as ever, but the film’s look is a bit more polished than the rest of the films. Spiral is a slick and clever movie that hits a lot of familiar beats and enough new notes so that it doesn’t feel like a cash grab or a retread.

At their best, the Saw films turned their low budget aesthetics and limitations into advantages. The anger at systemic injustices felt sincere, even if the moralizing of John Kramer/Jigsaw left me dismissing the first film as a poor man’s Se7en. The sequels kept the moralizing, and amped up the series’ cultural cache with its grizzly death traps. The mythology became so convoluted and insular that only diehards kept turning out each year like clockwork, because “if it’s Halloween, it must be Saw.” Returns diminished, as they do. In the wake of 2017’s lackluster Jigsaw, Saw’s prospects diminished to a breaking point. With Spiral, the stalwart series returns to form, courtesy of some familiar faces and a few new ones. When the familiar notes of Charlie Clouser’s score kick in during the climax, I couldn’t help smiling and feeling like Saw is back. Hell yeah.

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