As a new beginning for an overweary franchise, Spiral: From The Book of Saw (2021) might satisfy only the ardent fans of Saw. Everyone else, who hoped that bringing Chris Rock to the mix changes things for good, can abandon hope. The wrapping only seems to be different.
One can only admire the ever-beating heart of the Saw series. When Saw (2004) debuted, the cinema world went nuts. And the genius behind it was something that many other blissful horrors – I’m looking at you, The Blair Witch Project (1999) – didn’t stir. That is a whole franchise which could frivolously cut off its main antagonist and still carry on, doing quite well. Quality aside, you could argue that Saw became to horrors what Marvel did to superhero movies – a trendsetter. On the other hand, the franchise reached a point where it felt extremely tired of its excruciating marathon. The world’s changed, and even if Saw became a cultural phenomenon that sold disgusting images with moral disputes underneath them, it doesn’t hold now when horror as a genre matured.
Part of the cheesiness of the series has to be credited to James Wan and Leigh Whannell who departed after delivering the part one. Their film had a sticky, hermetic texture, which was infused with a nagging moral dilemma of having two men fight for their lives in a game of ruthless chances, designed by a dying psychopath playing God. For both filmmakers, this phenomenon became a career take-off. James Wan turned out to be a breeze of fresh air in the stagnant genre that fixated on torture porn, gratuitous violence and all kinds of gross-out straight-to-DVD bargains that all sprawled after Saw (2004) debuted years ago. Meanwhile, Leigh Whannell created the sci-fi bonanza Upgrade (2018) and a film I seem to solemnly dislike on my own, The Invisible Man (2020).
At this point, you’re probably wondering what’s the goal of this long prelude to the review of Spiral: From The Book of Saw (2021), so, here it comes.
Chris Rock in Spiral: From The Book of Saw (2021)
The revival of the franchise attracted quite an audience because of the name of Chris Rock, who became the evangelist of the project. Rumor had it that Rock saw through the worn-out agenda, and that the new entry in the series would offer a boost. Plus, he’s been feeling quite sentimental about the franchise. I shall start with his role then, for much of the film remains exactly the same as any other part of the franchise.
Rock plays Detective Zeke Banks. Banks is quite a character – he inherits Rock’s famous screaming manner (the opening argument between Banks and the commanding captain says it all), and gets a rather stale backstory of a cop who ratted on a dirty colleague. He’s not unlikable, because Chris Rock’s too likable, but he should be near the unlikable cop such as Rust Cohle from True Detective to make this work. Throughout the film, Rock gets to showcase his drama chops, however, in any other setting he would most likely be over-the-top and cringeworthy. He gets a pass though, because this kind of bravado acting fits the cheesy nature of the film.
While not all the moves work well in Rock’s choreography, there’s passion and sympathy for the whole endeavor; enough of it to keep the whole thing together. Truth be told, Spiral: From The Book of Saw (2021) doesn’t have much going on acting-wise other than what the famous comedian has to offer. The majority of actors seem prone to B-movie bits, hence my wild guess is that Samuel L. Jackson appeared to get more eyes looking at the project.
How scary is Spiral: From The Book of Saw (2021)?
As per the gore-and-scares factor, fans will most likely be polarized. Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger aren’t precisely a golden goose duo – Sorority Row (2009) or Piranha 3D (2010) won’t stand for examples of skillful writing (although the latter belongs to my all-time favorite gore comedies). Hence, the traps and death scenes are often unbelievably dull – as such strikes me a scene which finds a nifty wax harbinger of doom found in the least possible places of all (I’m trying very hard not to spoil anything here). There were films in 2021 far more graphic than Spiral: From The Book of Saw (2021), and furthermore, none of the scary moments surpasses anything that the franchise had to offer before.
There’s a sense of chaos in Spiral: From The Book of Saw (2021), certain kind of rush that director Darren Lynn Bousman can’t control too. The idea is let the film run on time pressure, built by the growing pile of cop cadavers turning up. But directing a film as nerve-wracking as Bousman’s vision aspires to be isn’t easy. Detective Banks runs around, strung along by the mysterious Jigsaw copycat. Police officers should feel the noose tightening on their necks, but the entire investigation lacks the fear-for-your-life delirium. And the devil is in the details too – Zeke receives multiple “presents” from the killer, yet there is no consistency in the way he tends to them. Sometimes you feel it’s a ticking bomb that might be there, and few scenes later Banks opens them like Christmas gifts.
Spiral: From The Book of Saw (2021) begins a new chapter of the franchise without confidence
Where does it all leave us then? Spiral: From The Book of Saw (2021) surely misses its opportunity. While the leverage of new faces does work, it works to an extent. Die-hard fans will cherish the quick edits, the over-the-top blood spills, and hearing the ominous “I want to play a game“, the omen of death since 2004. Yet I can’t personally shake the feeling there was something far more ambitious cooking up here, but the project sadly spiraled down as it approached its far-fetched finale.