Chris Rock finds himself at the centre of a franchise refresh in Spiral: From the Book of Saw, which follows Rock’s detective as he tracks a new sadistic killer targeting crooked cops. Chris Rock can command the screen if given the right material, notes Liam Maguren. This is not the right material.
If you weren’t excited about Chris Rock producing and leading a new Saw film, you had to at least be curious. Indeed, Spiral: From the Book of Saw does a fair amount of manoeuvring to warrant its attempt at refreshing the franchise, and it’s always commendable to see a comedian take their career in unexpected directions. Unfortunately, despite this potential for transforming the tired torture porn series, Spiral ends up being just another Saw film.
The previous films typically followed a group of people playing Jigsaw’s survive-or-die games while police officers race against the clock to save the day. And let’s be honest: the police procedural stuff has never been a highlight of any Saw film—not even James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s original. In a bold move, Spiral focuses squarely on a broken police force who are contending with a copycat using Jigsaw’s brand of sadistic justice against their most crooked cops. It certainly gives the series’ iconic pig mask some added importance.
If you squint your eyes, you can see something vaguely topical here about the faults of American police culture and their Blue Wall of Silence, though Spiral refrains from referencing recent events or trending hashtags and goes out of its way to make the dirty cops look like super shit-heads. So it isn’t reaching for social relevance, which is probably for the best. This is a Saw film after all, not Detroit.
As he proved in season four of Fargo, Chris Rock can command the screen if given the right material. This is not the right material. As battle-hardened officer Zeke, who “can’t trust ANYONE!!!” on the force, he can only do so much with the largely one-note tough-guy role. And, to be fair, it’s more character than we typically see from Saw films.
We first see Zeke undercover spouting some woke and some not-so-woke jokes, presumably to keep us guessing about his personal code, but can’t help feeling more like he’s workshopping some new stand-up material. A few scenes later, we see him build a likeable rapport with his new partner (Max Minghella) as well as his father (Samuel L Jackson). These two moments hold a fair bit of personality and feel surprisingly patient for a franchise known to move quickly to the next trap. It makes you wonder what could have been had Spiral not fallen back to the same old tricks that made people sick of the Saw films.
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Spiral wastes no time proving it’s just as sadistic as the previous films. I won’t go into detail about the traps (and I’m not sure I’d even want to) as the trailers hold back from revealing much about them. I won’t lie: they did make me squirm. The suspense mostly comes from trying to figure out what kind of device the victims are stuck in, so if you’re in this just to see people in agony screaming for their lives, this film will give you that.
However, there comes a point where the colossal effort of setting up a survive-or-die game seems completely pointless—especially when the killer’s revealed alongside their ulterior motive (which was never ever EVER going to work). And if you pay even the slightest bit of attention to the rote story, you’ll easily work out who it is halfway through. It really won’t test your brainpower, though I will take an obvious twist with all the clues in place over the ridiculous twist that requires 18 flashbacks to explain.
Then there’s the very end—a cut-to-credits conclusion so undercooked, it might contain salmonella. The only thing more laughable is a flashback that tries to make Chris Rock 20 years young by giving him Steve Buscemi’s backwards cap.
Having said all that, Spiral‘s still isn’t the worst film in the Saw franchise. However, with all the potential it squanders, it’s undeniably the most disappointing.