Spiral: From the Book of Saw, 2021.
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman.
Starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, Morgan David Jones, Frank Licari, John Tokatlidis, Zoie Palmer, Dan Petronijevic, Nazneen Contractor, Edie Inksetter, and K. C. Collins.
A criminal mastermind unleashes a twisted form of justice in Spiral, the new chapter from the book of Saw.
Spiral‘s concept is interesting and could have reinvigorated excitement for the long stale Saw franchise now up to nine installments. Darren Lynn Bousman (who has actually directed a couple of the better entries in the series) has kept up the mechanical and gory traps of the twisted game while framing a story around a police force hunting down a copycat Jigsaw. Perhaps even more refreshing, Chris Rock is lead detective Zeke Banks, bringing both a comedic presence and sincere effort as the disliked honest cop (you can sense that he really does have a passion for the franchise and is doing all he can to make this work somehow). It also seems there is plenty of corruption inside this particular force as new Jigsaw (now with a different, less sinister but creepy voice) targets only the dirty ones.
While joking around, Zeke launches into a tangent about the high divorce and suicide rate among cops. There’s humor mined from the story of his wife cheating on him for paying more attention to serving the public than spending time with her. As a result, in the early going, it felt like Spiral was actually going a pro-cop route with a Black lead and a white director, which would have certainly been a potentially offputting choice given the times we live in. And then the first body is uncovered, albeit someone from Zeke staunchly believes would never do anything corrupt.
From here, it feels like the so-called game is going to be a psychological one regardless of which side the film (which is written by the Jigsaw team Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger) decides to take. Or maybe it’s going to express the belief that there are no easy solutions and play both sides. The point is, Spiral sets itself up to be thought-provoking, analyzing systemic law enforcement before regressing more and more into the usual torture porn, all while losing its own sense of narrative focus. Why make something so tonally and structurally different than everything that has come before, only to give up and embrace the same tired formula?
Nevertheless, also fogging Zeke’s mind is that his celebrated former captain father Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson, who does indeed shout “yes, I do want to play a game muthafucka”, which might be the best part of the experience aside from the failed potential) who, while acknowledging his son has always done the right thing, also looks down on the decision for making himself an enemy among his peers. The mentality of “you’re either with us or against us” is yet another realistic dynamic to explore within the force that eventually ends preposterously. Zeke is also saddled with a rookie partner named William Shank (Max Minghella), meaning as the targets gradually hit closer to home, he also has to do some babysitting. Also, the pairing of Chris Rock and Max Minghella turns out to provide decent humor, lending Spiral some occasional buddy cop energy fun.
Ignoring all the suspension of disbelief required to make Spiral remotely enjoyable, there are also flashback sequences expanding on the police force’s actions and various cops. It’s both unnecessary and embarrassingly cheaply put together, with Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson especially looking ridiculous. They are so incompetent and brief with poor craftsmanship that it feels like they were filmed and inserted during postproduction with little effort. However, what really sinks Spiral is when you catch on to what’s really going on and how committed it is to delivering more unabashed absurdity. If the script and initial concept started from wanting to make a point about law enforcement, it finishes with a combination of cheese, stupidity, and a potentially offensive climax. The idea of focusing on detective investigations and corruption is sound and socially conscious, but the result is some of the most disrespectful and clichéd execution imaginable that makes a mockery out of the serious themes it already chose to address.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com