SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW — A Shockingly Relevant Update to the Franchise That’s Worth a Watch

The legend of how the ninth iteration of the Saw franchise came to be is almost too bizarre to be true: Chris Rock, who was a genuine fan of the franchise, pitched his personal take to Lionsgate, who was struggling to resurrect the property. Given David Gordon Green’s (2018’s Halloween) success trading comedy for horror and bringing back Micheal Myers — they jumped at the opportunity to have the legendary comedian take the reins of this series which was once a Halloween staple in the early aughts. Saw had fizzled out trying to figure out a way to revive its long dead protagonist year after year (Spoiler alert: Jigsaw dies of cancer in Saw III) with various degrees of success. The last film, Jigsaw, was a prequel that failed because it focused too much on the elaborate kills, with not enough time spent on the human story that is the real soul of this series.

For those that haven’t seen a Saw film, they are the story of John Kramer AKA The Jigsaw Killer played by Tobin Bell. John was a former civil engineer who was diagnosed with cancer and found a new appreciation for life after a failed suicide attempt. He then decided to share that appreciation, which came in the form of complex “Traps” — where the chosen victim is forced to confront their demons by being offered a form of “redemption” through a bloody “sacrifice”, or to simply do nothing and die. As the series went from entry to entry and the title of Jigsaw was passed to his disciples to target a new batch of wrongdoers, but it just wasn’t the same. I think that’s partly because Bell’s somber and understated take on the character and the Jigsaw persona gave the character a depth and sadness that wasn’t the same in his more eager acolytes.

Spiral has someone mimicking Jigsaw’s MO, but recalibrating Jigsaw’s lessons solely targeting dirty cops. At the center of this investigation during a heatwave, in a city that could possibly be Philadelphia (we see the top of Independence Hall in one fly over shot) is Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock), the son of the previous Captain (Samuel L. Jackson — Pulp Fiction reference?). Zeke is a pariah on the force because he broke the code of silence, testifying against an officer that he witnessed kill an unarmed man. Zeke takes the “Jigsaw” case after the bloody badge of the one cops who didn’t turn on him, shows up on his desk to lure him into the “game”. It’s a shockingly relevant take on the property, as “Jigsaw” forces the corrupt officers to confront their past transgressions one by one in spectacular fashion in order to earn a chance at “redemption”.

The most chilling part of Rock’s scenario is his take was in the pipeline long before the George Floyd protests and the defund the police movement became a part of the everyday vernacular. Originally planned for release in May of 2020, Spiral’s bleak subtext is shockingly more poignant than ever and it’s understandable why the film was shelved for a year. The film even manages to repurpose and elevate the pig imagery that has long been in the Jigsaw’s DNA, giving the killer’s choice of disguise a terrifying on the nose message. That being the case, even with its newfound hyper-relevance the film is very much a Saw movie and traffics in the tropes and bloody over the top gore fan’s have come to expect. The hard boiled, sepia toned melodramatic thriller is punctuated by moments of grotesque violence that offer up the kind of comeuppance only afforded on the silver screen. To sweeten the deal Rock even peppers his flatfoot’s dialog with his trademark painfully true observations, offering the audience a small reprieve from the tension.

Spiral was shot in 6K, with a 4K Digital Intermediate DCP. What that means is Spiral was shot in 6K and shockingly was edited and presented in 4K in theaters, which is not typically the norm; especially for horror. To cut costs most films are usually shot in a much higher resolution digitally and presented in 2K to save money for CGI and other costs. The extra resolution only helps the look and feel of the film since Spiral takes place during a heat wave and not only does it enable you to see every bead of sweat, but the HDR adds a fuller color spectrum to give a breadth to that hazy pallet of yellows and oranges the film utilizes. The 4K UHD also comes with a very aggressive Dolby Atmos track that definitely gave my sub a work out, not just with the more gorrific moments, but the needle drops as well.

The set comes with a very robust set of special features that I am still digging through, that further highlights the love and carethat went into bringing this reinvention to the screen.

Check the full list below:

  • Audio Commentary #1 — Director Darren Lynn Bousman, Co-Screenwriter Josh Stolberg, and Composer Charlie Clouser deliver a fun and engaging track, discussing coming back to the franchise, making it different, casting Rock and Jackson, along with the score and music choices of the film. This is worth the listen.
  • Audio Commentary #2 — Producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg talk more about production, stories from the set, and coming back to the franchise.
  • The Consequences Of Your Actions: Creating Spiral (HD, 59 Mins.) — A fantastic and in-depth look at the making of Spiral, covering most aspects of production, casting, post-production, and more. Cast and crew interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and other tidbits of info are included.
  • Drawing Inspiration: Illustrated Trap Breakdowns (HD, 9 Mins.) — The director takes everyone on a tour of the famous traps inside the film and goes into how they were made and executed.
  • Decoding The Marketing Spiral (HD, 6 Mins.) — A fun look at all the marketing promo items for all the films over the years.
  • Trailers (HD, 4 Mins.) — Two trailers for the film are included.

While Spiral isn’t the kind of genre defying phenomenon we witnessed with The Invisible Man, for a Saw film it’s damn solid given the last film was nothing short of a hot mess. It also doesn’t hurt that Darren Lynn Bousman who was responsible for some of the better sequels in the canon (Saw II, III) is also back behind the camera serving up both director and writing duties. He was no doubt instrumental in enabling Rock to tell this story while still making sure to hit the obligatory beats. He does all of this while also leaning hard into what made the original film such a genre classic and getting it about 75% right as Zeke plays the game with a twist some fans might see and might not. Spiral: From the Book of Saw is a bold new chapter that gives the series a renewed sense of purpose thanks to Rock’s voice, updating the ideology in a way that would definitely put a smile on John Kramer’s face.

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