I don’t know who was clamoring for it, but I guess we needed a new Saw movie? I still can’t tell after watching this one.
Set years after the original Saw films wherein John Cramer (Tobin Bell) subjected the people he manipulated and kidnapped to gruesome and horrific acts of torture and death, all in the name of “bettering” them as people — or more accurately — to teach them a deadly “lesson” that they won’t soon forget, Spiral sees Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock) and his rookie partner, William Schenk (Max Minghella) as they begin to investigate yet another instance of a creepy digitized voice asking “I want to play a game.” Seeing this as another copycat killer, this new terrifying foe is shown to be slowly taking out members of the police force with seemingly no way to stop them. What unfolds is a familiar story Saw fans have seen before with a few twists and turns along the way to keep things interesting; or at least that’s what the filmmakers were trying to make happen, unsuccessfully mind you.
So I’m not really sure about Saw making a comeback. After scraping the bottom of the sequel barrel and breaking through to the soft ground underneath way more times than necessary, Saw as a franchise had overstayed its welcome way before it ever stopped pumping out films. Though enjoyable if you’re into this type of horror (I’ve never minded the series, despite its somewhat reductive “torture porn” label), there truly hasn’t been a halfway decent entry in the series in a long while, with the last attempt to reboot the series in 2017’s Jigsaw doing nothing to bring interest back to the franchise.
And now we have yet another attempt at reviving a series that should still be taking a hiatus for a least another few years to brainstorm some fresh ideas to come out swinging with. But of course — and as to be expected — that didn’t really happen with this one, even if an attempt was clearly made. Bringing Chris Rock on creatively and as the lead of a film that usually has no funny bone in its body actually does wonders for the tone and legitimacy of what we’re seeing onscreen. I won’t go as far to say that his involvement saved the movie, far from it in fact, but I definitely enjoyed it more seeing a familiar face onscreen that made me crack up from time to time.
But for as good as Rock was at times, the script generally did nothing to help him along, he himself succumbing to its exposition heavy dialogue and uneven storytelling more often than not. By rehashing the same copycat killer idea ran into the ground sequels ago, this revival clearly knows where its bread is buttered and could care less about changing those story beats up. Not only that, but the traditional “twist” in each Saw film that’s always accompanied by the series’ iconic theme song turned up to eleven was one that I figured out right away, and even called the few shots and beats out that would later be used for the reveal.
It was honestly a little annoying how lazy this film is in that regard, as the script gets worse and worse as it goes on, with only a few upticks in quality happening towards the end of the film (sans the killer reveal), before abruptly ending for no real reason. Luckily — and probably the only reason why people come to these movies anymore — the traps seen throughout that the various victims are mutilated and murdered in are some of the series’ most inventive, with maybe one or two cracking the “best of” list I know some nerd is compiling out on the internet somewhere as I type this. But other than those few bright spots (if spurting blood and incessant screaming can be considered bright spots), I was actually more disappointed than anything at the final cut as I had absolutely expected some kind of turd of a film, but wasn’t expecting said turd to be on fire as well.
Spiral may be the most conscious attempt yet to do something different with this aging franchise, and while I commend the filmmakers and Chris Rock for their efforts (bringing back Saw director alum of Darren Lynn Bousmen helps), it wasn’t enough to call this a good movie. I will say that as abrupt as the ending was, the scene previous to it could open up the franchise and its inevitable future sequels in interesting ways, but I’m not holding my breath for anything better than what we got with this one.