Spiral: From the Book of Saw
The ninth film in the Saw franchise struggles to justify its existence
Lionsgate had a surprise hit with Saw (2004). The original film was made by straight-out-of-film school buddies James Wan and Leigh Whannell for $1 million dollars and grossed nearly 10 times that at the box office. By setting a formula of few locations and inventive editing, the franchise has proven to be incredibly lucrative for the studio. However, as much money as the films kept raking in, filmmakers had a harder time justifying more and more films. Whannell and Wan left at Saw III (2006), and the lead villain was killed off in that film as well. Somehow we are now in the ninth entry of the series with Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021).
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is the newest Saw entry. We focus on cynical cop Zeke (Chris Rock), who works for a highly corrupt police department, and his honesty is not making him any friends. When some fellow cops’ horribly mutilated bodies start appearing, there are suspicions that a new Jigsaw copycat killer may be on the loose.
Chris Rock and fellow castmate Samuel L. Jackson were surprising additions to the Saw franchise and their star-wattage has helped nearly quadruple the average Saw budget to $40 million. This allows the film to have a more expansive feel than previous entries. We get more outdoor locations, and multiple new interiors. This, along with a script that tries to deviate from the Saw formula, helps to somewhat shakeup the staleness in the franchise. As with Saw VI (2009), which focused on insurance companies’ ruthlessness, Spiral tries to tackle a social issue this time in regard to police corruptibility and accountability. However, to expect an acceptable exploration of social issue from a Saw film is the completely wrong attitude, as the film is soon contradicting itself and exploiting its credentials for cheap gore.
Spiral brings back a frequent Saw director, Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed Saw II (2005) through Saw IV (2007). Lynn Bousman seems to make attempts at providing a deeper and more dramatic film. Chris Rock, also in an executive producing role, pushed for this change in tone as well and as such Spiral spends a lot of time trying to set up its characters and their history. This is somewhat shored up with solid performances from Rock and Max Minghella as his cop partner, but they can’t salvage the poor screenwriting.
The script simply is incapable of crafting intriguing or likeable characters, this is especially unfortunate since a majority of the film is spent following our protagonists do their cop work. Spiral in fact may be more of a cop film than a Saw film. This is detrimental to not only the horror elements of the film, but to the interest levels of the audience as well. Spiral’s pace can slow to a crawl at some points, with me checking my watch multiple times in a five-minute interval. The gory traps in the film itself, seem completely tame and unimaginative considering the franchise it claims to be a part of, and as such they are incapable of providing Saw fans any sort of satisfaction.
I’m glad that the previous film in this series, Jigsaw (2017), seemed to step back from the more ruthless and violent elements that the franchise had devolved to. There are notable attempts to try and distance the franchise from the repetitive recircling that past films had done with the Jigsaw murder, but despite Jigsaw and Spiral’s best efforts, one simply can’t shake the feeling of how much story is there really left to tell?
Spiral is constantly struggling to justify its existence, and one might go as far as to claim it struggles to be a Saw film. The film doesn’t fall down to the lowest reaches of some previous films (the toned down violence and gore are appreciated), yet Spiral may suffer from a fate worse than being a bad film; being a boring one.