The horror franchise Saw is the most recent IP to get the reboot treatment, this time with Chris Rock leading the film. The newest entry into the franchise,Spiral: From the Book of Saw is the ninth film to unleash its terror inducing traps upon audiences. Starting in 2003, Saw has become a staple for horror fans, churning out sequel after sequel. Its easy to see how this franchise has made so many sequels given that the films are relatively cheap to make and have always made decent money in theaters. After 2017’s Jigsaw it seemed like the franchise might finally be over–until Chris Rock came into the picture.
What separates Spiral from the other installments is, no doubt, the lack of the iconic Jigsaw, AKA John Kramer (Tobin Bell). Him and his iconic puppet have become synonymous with gory traps and the iconic line “Do you want to play a game?” Neither Kramer nor his puppet make an appearance in Spiral other than some photos.
The basis of this film is different than previous films as well. Before, Jigsaw targeted sinners he deemed as needing a “test” to overcome their sins. Spiral changes that–instead of sinners, all the victims are officers of the same police station.
So how does Spiral holdup compared to the other films? Well, despite the absence of the Jigsaw killer and his puppet, the film actually proves to be stronger than all of the sequels in the franchise. Its traps are just as gory, a new puppet is a worthy successor, and Chris Rock is a strong protagonist to take the helm.
So why does Spiral feel a bit empty?
Recent years have shown us horror can make a statement while also inducing terror. Whether it was the Oscar nominated Get Out, which tackled race relations in the United States, or the slasher take on class and wealth with Ready or Not, horror has broken new molds and started necessary conversations. Spiral’s concept sounds like it could easily follow, perhaps with commentary on the corrupt police force–however, it never quite gets beyond that basic concept.
Corrupt police have made appearances in film for decades. What has changed is the discussion that follows. With the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement and the demands for change within the police force after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, Spiral feels like its ripe to say something about this. But it doesn’t.
When compared to the other sequels, Spiral does indeed stand above films 2-8. Chris Rock gives a great performance and incorporates a surprising amount of comedy that works very well. Samuel L. Jackson is a solid supporting character. The traps are new and fresh, and the story is much more coherent than previous installments. This film has also learned to not rely on flashbacks too heavily, which was always a crutch of previous films.
Yet with all of these things going for it, Spiral still underwhelms. It feels like a cake that has all the right ingredients, but then doesn’t rise. Had the film dared to show its teeth and say something bold and memorable, we would have a much more rich film– one that proves its existence has way more meaning than just another sequel in a tired franchise.
Spiral could easily spawn new sequels and will most likely churn a decent profit. Is it a good Saw film? Absolutely. Could it have been revolutionary though? Also yes. Spiral is a good update on this franchise, but to say it feels like a missed opportunity is an understatement.