Horror Movies


“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” isn’t so bad it’s good, nor is it a guilty pleasure, and its noticeably larger budget doesn’t improve matters

Lukasz Budnik

16 August 2023

In 2010, the seventh installment of the Saw series hit the movie screens, grandly advertised as its final chapter and realized in 3D technology (of course, just to throw intestines at the audience), which fit perfectly into the trend of that time. A few years later, it turned out that the creators hadn’t actually said their final word yet. In 2017, Jigsaw appeared on the screens, crushed by critics – which is pretty much the norm for this cycle – but it was a box office success. We had to wait four more years for the next installment of the series.

The initiator of Spiral’s creation was Chris Rock, who takes on the lead role in the film. His character, Zeke, is a detective who has remained in the shadow of his father (Samuel L. Jackson) for years and is not well-liked by his colleagues. When a Jigsaw copycat appears in the city, Zeke and his assigned partner get caught up in an elaborate game.

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It’s hard to call Spiral a part of the main series. It’s more of a spin-off that references the events from the main series mainly through verbal mentions of Jigsaw’s activities, but it focuses on entirely new characters and doesn’t pick up threads from parts 1-7 and Jigsaw. Director Darren Lynn Bousman returned to the helm (his fourth Saw film), but Spiral differs from his previous installments. Previous Saws – except for the original – followed a formula where characters or a group of them were trapped in a confined space, dealing with traps, while a parallel investigation unfolded. Spiral, on the other hand, seems to draw inspiration from David Fincher’s Se7en (though I’m not suggesting it’s on the same level), or even the first film of the series, to which the creators cheekily nod. Detectives track down a killer, stumbling upon his subsequent victims, and Zeke also grapples with his own past, taking the case very personally. Chris Rock, as a fan of the series, was heavily invested in the project and decided to carry Spiral on his shoulders, departing from his comedic image, although some of his scenes were written as if Rock subtly wanted to slip in one of his stand-up routines. Ultimately, his short interactions with Samuel L. Jackson are the most engaging, but the potential of their complicated relationship wasn’t fully explored, and it was reduced to stereotypes – a missed opportunity, as certain motifs could have resonated more strongly under different circumstances. Jackson, with his limited role, plays the typical Samuel L. Jackson character, yet remains memorable due to his charisma.

Screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger (also responsible for Jigsaw) try to delve into the characters, mainly through obligatory flashbacks in the series’ style, but it has a rather poor effect, and the characters remain indifferent to us. The recurring theme of police immorality is present, but Stolberg and Goldfinger ultimately glide over it. Zeke and his companions mostly move from place to place, utter clichés, make pained expressions, and move on, ticking off the points that lead to the solution of the puzzle and the hallmark of Saw – the final twist. I must admit that this twist didn’t impress me, though it might be due to the fact that the series’ creators reached such absurd heights in the previous installments that surprises are hard to come by. Yawns ensue.

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Compared to parts 2-7 and Jigsaw, where the characteristic traps of the series multiplied thanks to the screenwriters, Spiral has relatively few of them and takes up little screen time. However, the way they’re presented remains unchanged – chaotic editing, sudden close-ups, all accompanied by the victims’ screams. The screenwriters traditionally show no mercy for the human body and come up with various torture devices. Ripped tongues, severed fingers, glass embedded in skin – Bousman has experience in tormenting characters, so gore fans should be satisfied in this regard.

Financially, Spiral performed the worst among the series’ installments so far. It might be due to the pandemic, or perhaps the material has grown stale. The ambition can be appreciated, but it’s a shame that it doesn’t go hand in hand with viewer engagement. I preferred the almost soap opera-like plot of the main series, where absurdity followed absurdity, yet the struggle of strangers to survive generated some emotions. The absence of Tobin Bell in Spiral meant it lacked magnetism, and the awkward scripts didn’t help. The latest Saw isn’t so bad it’s good, nor is it a guilty pleasure, and its noticeably larger budget doesn’t improve matters – considering the project was born out of a fondness for the series, there’s surprisingly little substance here. However, the door to sequels remains open, so a few more victims will likely lose limbs in the future.

Łukasz Budnik

Lukasz Budnik

He loves both silent cinema and contemporary blockbusters based on comic books. He looks forward to watching movie with his growing son.

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