Spiral (2021) – Film Review

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Chris Rock the unexpected name to continue the legacy of Jigsaw, as the star and executive producer of Spiral. Or Spiral: From The Book Of Saw to give it its overly long, franchise-tying and slightly pretentious title.

Working in the shadow of his father, an esteemed police veteran (Samuel L. Jackson), brash Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock) and his rookie partner (Max Minghella) take charge of a grisly investigation into murders that are eerily reminiscent of the city’s gruesome past. Unwittingly entrapped in a deepening mystery, Zeke finds himself at the center of the killer’s morbid game.

In an attempt to breathe new life into the franchise, the focus shifts from the games to the investigation. One that is further complicated when it turns out that the killer is targeting crooked cops within Banks’s department.

A killer attempting to hold the police accountable and attone for their sins plays much differently than if the film had been released a year ago as planned. Now given the inescapable media attention on the police and their use of excessive force in the likes of the George Floyd case, someone like this Jigsaw disciple could have been seen by the public as a hero figure.

The problem is that it does not explore this. Instead opting for a straight forward police procedural narrative. It is clear from the aesthetic and the tone that the filmmakers are going for is making this the franchise’s Se7en. Unfortunately it comes across more like an episode of CSI: Crime Saw Investigation. An existing script that has been retooled to fit the existing legacy.

Spiral has the biggest pool of talent out of any of the films but fails to use them to the best of their ability. Samuel L. Jackson is just Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Rock is hampered by playing it straight. His performance tends to be a little one note with his constant expression of anger and confusion. Coming across like Joey from Friends trying to divide 232 by 13.

One appreciates the decision to try something different but ultimately the film fails as both a Saw movie and a detective movie. Whilst it is always a thrill to hear the opening bars of Charlie Clouser’s “Hello Zepp” refrain, the central plot and subsequent reveal that accompany it is too well signposted. Any fan of either genre will not need a degree in criminal psychology to spot who is behind it all.

Which leads to the Jigsaw-inspired traps. Outside of the original film, and arguably the first sequel, which became a classic down to its ingenious twist, the main draw of these films has been the traps. Each subsequent film having to outdo its predecessor in terms of inventiveness and gore. As the films progressed, it became more about how twisted they were rather than about survivability. One could argue that given the narrow parameters of the “games” featured here, that survival is a distinctly remote possibility.

There is sadly nothing here that will live in the pantheon of classic games like the Reverse Bear Trap, Needle Pit or The One With The Pig Guts. One fundamental flaw behind the plan is that John Kramer, the original Jigsaw, put people through the tests to show them the value of life. Here they are used to enact revenge, thereby missing the point entirely (although that could be said for other apprentices like Hoffman).

A spiral by definition winds in a continuous and gradually widening (or tightening) curve. Here it should be expanding the Saw universe or taking the central concept back to its origins. Instead the film thinks it is going somewhere new when really it is trapped in an endless loop. Doomed to repeat itself. That is where the Saw movies sadly finds themselves. Rehashing the same tropes and cliches for diminishing returns as the franchise spirals down the drain.

If you are asked to play a game with Spiral, just politely decline and go on your way. It might be time to call Game Over on our friend Jigsaw.

Spiral is in cinemas now

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman,
Stars: Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Samuel L. Jackson
Runtime: 91 minutes
Country: USA

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