The "Saw" franchise is one of the most successful horror franchises of all-time, having grossed over a billion - with a "b" - since the first film hit theaters back in 2004. "Spiral: From the Book of Saw" is now the ninth film in the series and the first since the 2017 release, "Jigsaw."
The first two films in the series were fresh, unique and clever despite being labeled, perhaps correctly, as "torture porn." But the further we get away from that original pair of films, the more pointless the movies have become. Consequently "Spiral," feels like a copy of of a copy of a copy...an inauthentic wanna-be, much like the new killer it features who is yet again out for some twisted form of vengeance.
It's been more than 10 years since the "Jigsaw Killer" was finally put down, after terrorizing countless victims over the course of eight films. "Jigsaw," as he's known, liked to capture his victims and then give them an "impossible choice," often requiring the captive to mutilate themselves or others in exchange for their own survival. Jigsaw was doing this for some higher purpose: To teach his victims or have them atone for past mistakes they've made.
When a cop is brutally murdered in a subway, the scene shows curious signs of a copycat killer that may or may not be responsible. Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) is put on the case, along with his new rookie partner, Detective William Schenk (Max Minghella), and it's soon clear that no one at the station is safe.
Banks already doesn't trust those in his department, after they inexplicably didn't have his back at some point in the past, which led to him getting shot. Banks wasn't especially liked or respected, with nepotism suspected...Zeke was the son of former Police Chief Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson). As the mystery unfolds, more and more people in his precinct are murdered in various heinous ways (which also weeds and rules out the potential suspects along the way), as both Banks men find themselves falling deeper and deeper into the killer's universe.
Bizarrely, the first 20 minutes or so features Rock's character on an undercover mission, where he seems to be working out some new stand-up material. But that comic vibe is quickly discarded when the movie becomes a straight serial killer/detective hunt, the type of film in which we've seen countless times over the years. In fact, there is very little that will remind fans of what "Saw" has become popular for, until the final half-hour or so. Even when the "games" begin, they're more cruel than clever, and when the final "reveal" takes place, you'll scratch your head at the logic of it all.
At this point - nine films in - the filmmakers seem to literally have nothing to do or say other than to try to cash in on the film's name and popularity. They continue to offer up copycat versions of Jigsaw, because they literally squeezed every last drop out of that unique villain and haven't come up with a worthy spin since. The filmmakers don't seem to realize that the thing that made "Saw" different wasn't the insanely graphic violence, the torture or the quantity of splattered blood. It was the creativity of the original film, and it's ability not only to scare but to surprise. "Spiral" offers no real scares and even fewer surprises.
So what's the point?
It's time that they let this franchise rest in peace. "Spiral" isn't an argument that the "Saw" movies should continue, but another example of how they desperately need to be retired. This isn't an "impossible choice" but a fairly obvious one.
Genre: Crime, Horror, Mystery.
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes.
Starring: Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella.
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman ("Mother's Day," "Saw IV," "Saw III," "Saw II,").
"Spiral: From the Book of Saw" is in theaters on Friday, May 14th, 2021.
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