Let me get this out of the way now, so you can skip the rest of the review if you want: SPIRAL is good. Very good. Like, I couldn’t believe how good it was, good.
I’m not going to lie; I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with the SAW franchise. While the first entry was incredibly mind-blowing (and the first few sequels were fantastic in how they expanded the mythology of Jigsaw), the last handful of movies were…not great. I admittedly skipped the last two and heard about them second-hand from my son, but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. They degraded into mindless torture porn after a while, and there were other things I’d rather spend my time doing.
All of that said, I was pretty nervous when they announced SPIRAL. It sounded like a cheap spin-off, and even the inclusion of Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson seemed more stunt-casting than eye-catching to me. But then some footage started coming out. And then the trailer. And some rumors on the internet. Before you know it, I went from “uninterested” to “intrigued a bit,” and even that grew with every passing day. So when the opportunity arose for me to check it out early, I took it. I even brought my son, the resident SAW expert, along with me to get his take.
And at the end of its 93-minute running time, we walked out incredibly pleased because, like I said earlier, SPIRAL is very, very good.
The story is simple enough; a brash, young detective (played by Chris Rock) not only lives in his retired police captain father’s shadow but also is still dealing with abuse from his peers for putting away a dirty cop years before. When a murder reminiscent of Jigsaw pops up, he takes on the case, along with his rookie partner, and soon finds himself at the center of a new killer’s morbid game. And because it is SAW, you know that game is going to be pretty gnarly.
The subtitle (SPIRAL: From the Book of SAW) is true to the nature of the film. While, yes, this is connected to the films of the past, it certainly stands on its own. Hell, you don’t even need to know what happened in the other films, just that Jigsaw killed people in increasingly messed up ways. This new film takes off in a whole new direction and sheds the complicated mythology of the franchise for some brand-new terrors.
To my knowledge, Chris Rock has not been any in horror films before, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes after this. He is fantastic, taking on a more dramatic role than we are accustomed to seeing him in. Don’t get me wrong, he still has some hilarious quips throughout the movie, but he carried a lot of weight from his character’s past, and it showed. I was thoroughly impressed with how he navigated each scene and from the first moment we see him, all the way through the end, he kept me entertained. The other big name joining the franchise (and chewing scenery) is none other than Samuel L. Jackson. While more of a supporting character, he definitely made his presence felt as an integral part of the story. As father and son, I thoroughly enjoyed the dynamic between Jackson and Rock, and honestly hope these two get teamed up further.
Of course, there isn’t much I can say about the story itself without wanting to spoil it for you, but I was impressed with how it was crafted. As these films often do, SPIRAL kept us on the edge of our seats the entire time and keeping us guessing at who was behind this new crop of crimes & why. My son and I excitedly exchange theories the whole time, and while only one of us wind up being right, we both had a blast dissecting what was happening. The film did an excellent job of keeping us guessing the entire time. As each murder and clue was revealed, it added another name to the list of potential suspects.
The SAW films have a way of showing off seemingly meaningless things or sprouting innocuous bits of dialogue, only for them to come back around later on in a major way, and that is still the case here. However, SPIRAL does it even better than before, with each reveal carrying a gigantic amount of weight. Everything ties together quite nicely in SPIRAL, every moment matters. That’s to the credit of writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, who weave one of the best entries of the franchise here.
Also returning to the series is director Darren Lynn Bousman, who helmed the early (and best) SAW sequels. Bringing Bousman back was a great move because he knows the material better than anyone at this point, but he also was able to make it feel new again. Bousman knows the trappings, the camera moves, and every classic bit we love from the earlier SAW films, and brought them back with none of the additional baggage. He helped change the game for SAW, and it’s only natural that they brought him back to reinvent it.
All in all, SPIRAL is one of the best sequels I’ve seen to any horror film. All of my nervousness about SPIRAL was unfounded, and I honestly can’t wait to watch the film again with the knowledge of the ending. Here’s hoping that SPIRAL continues to spin the franchise off in a new direction, and we get some quality sequels for years to come.
SPIRAL: From the Book of SAW opens May 14th.