The Latest Saw Film Will Hopefully Spiral (2021) the Series in a New Direction
First Wide Release: May 12, 2021 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Writer: Josh Stolberg, Pete Goldfinger
Runtime: 93 Minutes
Starring: Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) is berated by his unit’s captain (Marisol Nichols) before being handed a new case and a new partner, William (Max Minghella). They make their way to the crime scene, a subway tunnel with blood and organs scattered across the tracks. Later a box for Zeke is sent to the precinct and discover a flash drive. Once they play the contents, they find evidence that they have a serial killer on their hand. Even more bewildering is that this killer seems to have a similar M.O. to the infamous Jigsaw killer, only this time they’re going after dirty cops. Can Zeke and William stop the killer, or will the games return for good this time?
It doesn’t quite eclipse the original films, but Spiral tells a story worth telling with ample violence, mystery, and social commentary to live up to the franchise’s reputation.
The film takes a similar approach as the earlier films while homing in on the particular cause of police corruption and brutality. While certainly a part of earlier Saw films, Spiral takes this idea a step further and puts an entire police department on the chopping block. Both a timely choice and a step in a new direction for the franchise, Darren Lynn Bousman brings new life to the series, albeit with mixed results.
I personally like the new direction the series is taking as a whole. It feels confident in its own vision while staying true to the ideas of the series. That being said, it does feel a bit safe. The best Saw movies, in my opinion, are the ones that take big risks: most notably the first two and the sixth. Every Saw movie comes with a twist and Spiral’s is fairly obvious if you either know the franchise or have seen a decent number of similar films. The motivation is great, but I wish there was more development of other red herrings to make it more grandiose. Some better development of this character pre-reveal could have done wonders.
Truthfully, I was most worried about Chris Rock’s involvement in the film, but I will say his performance surprised me. Rock handles the material well. His more comic side does appear now and again but for the most part he plays it straight. That being said, the expletives feel out of place and over the top. It seems like the writers couldn’t come up with something interesting for the characters, particularly Zeke, to say and instead they default to rage blasts. While the rest of the cast delivers solid performances, I can’t help but think of how criminally underutilized Samuel L. Jackson is in this project. His presence always brightens any horror project he latches onto and I barely noticed him here.
In terms of look, Spiral blends into the series while maintaining its own distinct look and feel. It is very stylistically similar to the earlier Saw franchise. It’s deviation from the rest of the series comes primarily from the soundtrack which feels a bit off-message at times. Truthfully, it would be more appropriate in an action film or a more teen/young adult centric horror film, but it doesn’t distract too much from the tone.
A restrained amount of jump cuts and dark visuals are still used to make the trap sequences unbearably tense. Like many Saw movies before, Spiral has plenty of realistic gore effects that will have your stomach churning. And the traps themselves are as gratifying as ever, sans the splatter some may be used to from the unrated versions. Unfortunately, they don’t have much presence in the film despite being incredibly nerve-wracking and steeped in irony.
I do think, however, that the movie doesn’t particularly stay on message. Zeke is the film’s protagonist and is painted as the best kind of cop there could be which is why he is being targeted. When searching for answers, however, he uses excessive force on an informant after goading them into an altercation. It brings this whole re-branding down for me because that is supposed to be the behavior that the new killer abhors not admires. It doesn’t make much sense to me and that is where the film lost me. It doesn’t help that it feels more confined which is odd for the eighth entry in a decades-long series.
Spiral is a fine installment in the Saw series that leans in on what makes the franchise special while simultaneously taking it into a new and more culturally relevant direction. There’s enough grit and gravitas that makes it a squirm-in-your-seat experience but enough humor to help the film’s tone from veering too far into disturbing territory. It won’t be for everyone and longtime fans of Saw may not appreciate it in the same way. Personally, I am interested to see how they move forward and ultimately, I think it’s a much-needed venture out of the world of John Cramer. Let John rest so the games can continue, and knowing this series, they have only just begun.
Overall Score? 6.5/10