Spiral: From the Book of Saw
Gore and horror have long gone hand-in-hand, though following the turn of the millennium there was a notable increase in torture porn, most of which was dross. From the sluice, however, a few films did rise to make a significant cultural impact. Saw was one such film that not only stood out for its longevity and numerous sequels, but also because it was pretty good. Yes, there was violence and blood, and yes it was made on a shoestring, but it was gripping and tense and had a killer twist.
The formula of Saw was repeated in its sequels—at least initially—in that each would involve characters stuck in a game devised by a serial killer who did not call himself a serial killer, known as Jigsaw. These victims would make poor decisions, resulting in their failure to escape from Jigsaw’s devious traps. The first three sequels after James Wan’s original—which were the sequels worth paying attention to—were directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who returns here.
The premise of Spiral focuses on a Jigsaw copycat, although unlike previous Saw films there seems no possibility of escape for the apparently deserving souls caught and forced to play. The gore is present, as before, though a little dialled-down in comparison to the later sequels. If anything, it is reminiscent of the original Saw, in that it sets itself up with a specific aesthetic. Unfortunately, there are few other comparisons to be made to the original that spawned this extensive franchise.
Chris Rock leads the cast as a grizzled maverick detective who has enemies inside the department for standing up for what was right, but has a personal life best described as falling apart. His wife has left him, he rarely sees his children, and his fractured relationship with his father is compounded by both his parent being his landlord, and being a retired police chief from the very department where Rock works. It is a collection of clichés that Rock struggles to rectify, and although he gets to drop a few funny one-liners between angsty brooding, he lacks the cragginess to elevate the role above the rote.
In a curious casting decision, Samuel L Jackson plays Rock’s father. Though Jackson is almost two decades older than Rock, he usually plays younger, and so he is simply unbelievable as Rock’s dad. Perhaps if a younger actor had taken the lead, or an older one as the father, both could have worked, but as it stands it seems a little silly.
Rock’s world-weary detective is, fairly obviously, teamed with a rookie, in this case Max Minghella, who throws himself into the role, but again is miscast. He is great as an inexperienced detective, in the same way Rock is great at complaining, but there is something missing. Training Day this is not.
In reality, the writing is to blame. This is a trashy film where the entire basis of police work is tropes picked up in other films. Echoes of David Fincher’s Seven resonate without justification as this is nowhere near the same league.
Perhaps the best was to consider this film is as what it is: trash. It is enjoyable, not too long, and though it fails to live up to the standards set by the original Saw, it is still better than the later sequels when Bousman left the franchise. It is his least successful Saw-related film, but it is a whole lot better than the dreadful sixth and seventh instalments in the series, and on a whole other level to the appalling previous revisiting of it.
If you don’t mind turning off your brain this is a good way to pass the time. For a proper horror film it falls horribly flat, and the lack of smart twists at the end—without spoilers, it’s all very obvious and you’ll work it out in minutes—put it well below the par, but there are worse ways to fill an hour and a half. There are many better ways, though.