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SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW gets 5.5/10 Saw it before


Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

Starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella, Marisol Nicholas

5.5

Nine movies into a horror franchise, and numerous killers having laid claim to the Jigsaw mantle in various fashions, it’s little surprise that Saw can use some fresh blood. Based on an idea by comedian Chris Rock, this iteration plays more as a police thriller (an element touched upon by previous films) and tackles institutional corruption.

A strong moral compass has isolated Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) from the rest of his precinct. Accused of being “a rat” after testifying against his former partner, Banks has not lived up to the overwhelming legacy of his father, Captain Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson). When Detective Banks and his new rookie partner (Max Minghella) investigate the death of a hobo in the subway, they instead discover a Jigsaw copycat that is targeting members of the police force. As the killer starts taunting Banks with clues, the detective starts to suspect that the case has ties to the precinct’s murky history of corruption, and to his own career.

This is absolutely the right way to reboot the Saw franchise. Keep the dark imagery, and the twisted moral philosophy while jettisoning the labyrinthine mythology surrounding the series, giving it something new and fresh to explore. Working from the police investigation, this harkens back to aspects of the original Saw, while having it play out more like a nineties police thriller (Seven is certainly an influence with both films). It even manages to make a few social points about institutional corruption and violence, albeit in as heavy handed a fashion as you would expect from a franchise renowned for complicated deathtraps and gallons of splattered gore.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw may be the right way to reboot the franchise, but it is absolutely the wrong vehicle, failing to create any sense of mystery and suspense. After an initially promising first act the film starts to stagnate into a formulaic pattern, with the expected prerequisite traps and victims. About half way through, the audience works out who the killer is, and from there it’s just a rather dull ride to the finish line. To be fair, this knowledge comes from a basic understanding of horror tropes, rather than an obvious clue to the mystery, but you have to think that nine episodes deep into a film series, anyone interested in watching this film is going to have that degree of genre literacy.

Rock does well enough as Detective Banks. He’s at his best when he’s relaxed and showcasing his smart-mouth comedic banter, but also shows he has some serious dramatic chops (which he’s already proven in the underrated Top Five). Unfortunately it’s the nature of the series that it is pushed towards a stronger intensity, it veers into melodrama.

Having Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, III, IV, and Repo: The Genetic Opera) helm the project ensures that you have a certain continuity of style in this, but it also leans into some of the worst visual excesses of the previous films, and instead of heightening the drama, makes it look like a comedic parody at times. Finally the killer lacks the complicated philosophy and obvious charisma of Tobin Bell, instead projecting an impish glee as he’s performing his gruesome work, which feels slightly out of place with an apostle of Jigsaw that has tasked himself with such a grand vision.

Ultimately that underbaked script may tank this franchise, depending on the box office, which is a pity. Spiral: From the Book of Saw may not be a great film, but there’s enough that’s intriguing about the setting, that it could get it right in a subsequent sequel.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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