Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021) - Movie Review

Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021) - Movie Review
7 10

PLOT: A serial killer is taking out dirty cops in the style of the long-dead Jigsaw. Detective Zeke Banks must put the pieces together and figure out the killer's identity before it's too late.

LOWDOWN: The original Saw came out in 2004, yet It feels like it was just yesterday I was sitting in the theater watching a then-unknown James Wan change the horror game. The passage of time eludes me, folks. But here we are in 2021, getting the second soft reboot and the ninth movie in the series. So, does Spiral breathe new life into the world of Saw? Well, top off your drink and join me as we dig into the mixed bag that is Spiral, aka Spiral: From the Book of Saw.

The first few entries in the Saw series tend to be the best, in my opinion, with the OG being a modern classic. It brought a visceral gut punch to the genre that didn't exist in mainstream horror at the time. Saw, with all of its intense gore becoming a viable commercial success, was a gamechanger. Not to sound like an old man yelling at the clouds, but kids today just wouldn't understand. Like any horror series that has sequels in the high digits, things ended up getting goofier and more convoluted as time went on. The first three movies are serious and well made, while the later sequels enter the "so bad, It's good" territory. Spiral is here to re-set expectations with the hopes of delivering a grounded and more toned-down approach that can sit nicely in between the earlier entries.

Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) is the last good cop in his department. A loner with zero support ever since he turned in one of his own for covering up a murder and has had a target on his back ever since. Once a Jigsaw copycat starts executing cops in elaborate traps, it's up to Zeke to uncover the killer's identity and save the department that has all but abandoned him. The first thing we must get out of the way is that Spiral wisely distances itself from the previous entries by making this a detective story with Saw elements. The traps and killer are pushed into the background while things play out more like a cheap version of Seven than Saw. This may piss off some long-time fans, but I'm okay with this shift in perspective after seventeen years.

Chris Rock plays himself or a more bitter version of Lee Butters from Lethal Weapon 4. For the most part, it works as Rock has the charisma and wit to play grumpy, pretty damn well. The story focuses on Zeke and Zeke alone. He makes for one of the more entertaining protagonists in the series, and as a police procedural set in the Saw universe, I dig this being a more personal story. Besides a cameo by Sam Jackson playing Zeke's dad and former captain Marcus, the only other person he can trust is his new baby-faced partner William (Max Minghella). Though a somewhat large cast, Zeke and William are the only two the film really focuses on. In a sea of corruption, they are the only honest cops that can help take down the Jigsaw copycat.

Now, I'm sure you're wondering, how are the traps? These are the main draw and what put the Saw series on the map. Well, they are a bit more grounded yet still pack a gruesome f*cking punch. The later sequels had Rube Goldberg-inspired traps, which I loved because they were stupidly amazing. Spiral wisely goes back to the earlier versions that seemed quaint by the time we hit Saw 3D. The gore is still impressive and primarily practical, and when we do get into the torture, Spiral doesn't shy away. It isn't as outrageous as other entries, but director Darren Lynn Bousman hits the perfect balance for a more low-key story.

My issues with Spiral hit around the halfway point. With corrupt cops, a brutal serial killer on the loose, and a detective that is basically on his own, things don't actually go anywhere. Maybe I was hoping that Spiral would elevate itself and aim for more, but the crime story ends up going the safe and generic route. In a world where True Detective, The Outsider, and The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo exist, I figured we'd get something along those lines, only in the Saw universe. Instead, Spiral seems to take a lot from the 90s thrillers. Now, I love 90s thrillers, but Danny Glovers hot-headed captain breathing down his neck because he's a loose cannon that plays by his own rules makes sense in the very '90s Predator 2, but in a modern movie, it's awkward if it's not ironic. Captain Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols) hams it up like I'm watching New York Undercover and not a Saw movie in 2021.

Maybe I foolishly expected this to be different, but despite the new direction and a more grounded world, Spiral just does the same Saw routine we've seen many times before. That's fine in all, but what is the point of selling this as something fresh when it's the same old song and dance?  Also, can we stop with the twists? It's the same thing that torpedoed M. Night Shyamalan's career. Not having a twist in a Saw film would be more of a twist than actually including one.

GORE: The gore is plentiful here. We get some face-melting, finger and tongue removal. Darren Lynn Bousman hasn't softened up and can still gross you out. It may not go as far as some of the other sequels, but it still packs a punch.

BOTTOM LINE: In the end, Spiral or Spiral: From the Book of Saw is a decent flick with a great cast. Putting Bousman back in charge to right the ship is a smart move. Maybe this will grow on me, and I'll end up appreciating it more, but as of now, instead of getting Saw meets True Detective, all I got was Saw meets New York Undercover. Spiral sits between the seriousness of the early entries and the goofiness of the later ones without fully committing to one. The acting is solid, and the gore is good, but I've seen both done better elsewhere in this series. Hopefully, the sequel takes a few more risks, as I'd be down to see this continue if it gets out of its comfort zone, but until then, Spiral is an acceptable entry and nothing more. Knock a few back and check this one out if you got the time, but don't go in expecting much. It's only okay when it should have been a f*cking blast.

 Lionsgate releases Spiral: From the Book of Saw in theaters on May 14.

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