You know the saying: if at first you don’t succeed, try eight more times.
“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” is the latest installment of the popular “Saw” franchise, and follows a detective (Chris Rock) and his young partner (Max Minghella) who investigate a series of police officer murders that resemble the Jigsaw killings from years before. Marisol Nichols and Samuel L. Jackson also star, while Darren Lynn Bousman returns to the director’s chair after helming the second, third, and fourth installments.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the “Saw” movies, torture porn isn’t really my cup of tea, but the trio of them I have seen (the first, fourth(?), and 2017’s “Jigsaw”) I got enough kick out of; they do what they say on the box. I was interested in this quasi-reboot when it was announced (and then delayed a year due to the pandemic), and curious how Chris Rock would do in the lead role. Comedians taking on classic horror franchises seems to be the new Hollywood trend (Danny McBride with “Halloween” and Jordan Peele with “Candyman”) so maybe this could be something new and fresh for both the franchise and Rock; instead, it’s just more of the same except somehow blander.
I honestly think the most-interesting aspect of the “Saw” franchise isn’t the murder traps but the police procedurals, and that the stories lend themselves to a possibly very good “Se7en” scenario if the right (read: good) screenwriter were given the opportunity. “Spiral” tries more than the previous films to play out like a mystery and detective film, but the script doesn’t give the audience any clues to follow along with the characters on their quest. To make matters worse, this film has such an obnoxiously obvious twist that could have been fixed easily by even slightly better editing, writing, and/or direction.
Chris Rock has begun a little bit of a career renaissance, directing the dramedy “Top Five” (about a comedian who wants to star in dramas) and starring in the latest season of the “Fargo” series. A “Saw” film is actually a smart step, because it allows him bite off a little bit of “serious” acting without having to get too worked up over it. His performance here is alright, he holds himself together well in some scenes but then completely overacts in others. I think his character works best when it’s simply Rock testing new standup material (he has a pretty funny monologue about Forrest Gump early on), but by the end it’s clear either the script was too cheesy or Rock is still a few years removed from being taken serious as an actor; I applaud his efforts, though.
People come to movies like this for the blood and the traps and here they are… fine. I liked the way the killer ties police corruption to the deadly games (“you must cut out the tongue you lied on the trial stand with”), but there are really only three or four traps to be found here. The rest of the time is a cop drama that isn’t really all that dramatic (or interesting).
“Spiral” is just good enough to make you wish it was better, because there are a few ideas in here I liked. I’d be interested in seeing where a tenth installment would go, although I think they need to bring in a fresh director and seasoned screenwriter to really give the franchise its first genuine good film (if you like these movies God bless you but “Scream” and “The Evil Dead” they are not). If you’re itching to just get back to the theater then this is a decent way to kill 95 minutes, but otherwise hold up til it’s a rainy Saturday night and turn this on in your living room.
Critics Rating: 5/10