Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Say Goodbye to Billy
After a 14-year absence from the Saw franchise, director Darren Lynn Bousman (director of Saw II, III, and IV) returns with Spiral. Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rocks) is a lone wolf when it comes to his police work. Thanks to his troubled past with everyone at the precinct and the fact that his father, Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), is the former police chief, Zeke is just trying to get some honest police work done.
Zeke is forced to take on a new partner, a rookie detective named William Schenk (Max Minghella). Zeke is named lead detective on a case where a Jigsaw copycat has just emerged and is targeting fellow police officers and detectives with new grotesque traps.
The Saw films have always varied in quality and are fairly redundant for the majority of the franchise. The first film is noticeably low budget and has atrocious acting, but it also has legitimate creepy sequences. The ending was incredible to experience in the theater because an auditorium full of people laughing at the bad acting for the majority of the film were totally silent when Jigsaw stood up and that familiar music played.
Each sequel tends to offer more of the same as the franchise drifted through seven sequels before Spiral. The most interesting of which was part VII, the “final chapter.” Why we can’t get a Saw film where Dr. Gordon is putting his own spin on Jigsaw’s games and murderous traps for the entire film is beyond comprehension.
Spiral attempts to put story first and gruesome and horrific torture sequences second. The traps are more elaborate than they’ve ever been though with the finger trap involving water and electricity being a disgusting highlight. While Spiral’s final sequence isn’t exactly up to par with the other twists the Saw franchise has already given its bloodthirsty fans, it is still arguably the best executed sequence in the film. The initial trap the victim is sprawled up in is creative enough as it is, but how it becomes intertwined with previous sequences, past actions, and the killer’s clues is one of the disemboweled puzzle pieces that made the Saw films so successful the first time around.
The horror film is essentially a complete disappointment otherwise. Spiral goes out of its way to point out to its audience that we have yet another Jigsaw copycat to deal with; another sequel, another copycat. We had like half a dozen copycats already, so naturally we need a new one for a new generation. Jigsaw is dead and we already had a film 10 years after the fact where he was somehow still the prime suspect. There's literally no where else for a Saw film to go.
There was reportedly an estimated $40 million budget for Spiral, so it’s odd that the film feels like it’s low budget. Scenes seem to purposely not use enough light and the entire film is grainy for no apparent reason. Maybe it’s a filter that was added later in an effort to be homage to the original film. Whatever the case may be, a $40 million film shouldn’t feel this average.
The acting in Spiral is also unbelievably bad. You can only use the homage excuse so many times before it becomes a lazy explanation. Most of the cast sounds like constipated robots and nobody has any range other than screaming or being an unbearable jerk. Chris Rock has this look on his face the entire film like he put on a pair of pants that somebody already crapped inside of. Even Samuel L. Jackson’s shtick of showing up in an R-rated film and throwing a few F-bombs around feels stale and dated.
Apparently critics are giving Spiral credit for attempting to take Saw in a new direction, but it honestly feels like a film that isn’t trying hard enough. The quick jump editing style used in the film is like repeatedly snapping a jock strap to your groin for fun for 90 straight minutes. Every gore sequence starts off slow, then speeds up, then slows down, and then speeds up again. It does this over and over again. It feels like a technique that worked 20 years ago, but it is just annoying now. You can certainly have flashes of gore that get around the MPAA slapping you with an NC-17 rating without feeling like a scrappy, slapped together music video, right?
While Spiral may offer more elaborate traps and a worthwhile ending, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the ninth Saw film is boring and predictable. That’s a weird thing to say; being bored about people being tortured to death. The problem is you know who the killer is the minute he’s introduced and are guaranteed to not be wrong once something else is revealed. Like the killer in the film, Spiral is a poor imitation of a Saw film.
© 2021 Chris Sawin