Remember James Wan’s first Saw movie? Critics pretty much wrote it off as another torture porn movie, but honestly for what it is, it’s pretty good. I think I first saw it when I was about 10 (again, I was a strange child) and I was caught up in the twists and what not. Since then, Wan has gone on to make huge hits such as Aquaman and The Conjuring. He hasn’t made another Saw movie though, and now EIGHT (yes that’s right, EIGHT) movies later, we have Spiral.
Truth be told, I tapped out at about Saw IV, because I knew that the series was just going to keep spinning its wheels. Spin they have. Who would’ve thought that Wan’s clever little low-budget horror thriller would’ve spawned EIGHT sequels? This franchise even pulled a “The Final Chapter” card- for Freddy Kruger, it was the 6th film (out of a total 9); for Jason Voorhees, it was the 4th film (out of a total 12); for Jigsaw it was the 7th film (out of a total 9).
And the cash cow goes…
The newest one, Spiral, turns out to be a strange case though. Here is another last-ditch effort to keep a franchise afloat, and yet they managed to get two pretty huge names to headline it: Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson. When they were cast back in 2019, I thought that maybe there was still life in this series. Why else would these two sign up for this, unless the material was strong? Did they want to get in on the bloodlust? After seeing Spiral, I’m still searching for the answers. Spiral is an odd little movie not just because of this, but also because I often couldn’t figure out what the film wanted to be. It’s as if there were two creative forces clashing against each other, and neither one pulled off a successful movie.
So, for starters, the film begins as you’d expect: a detective is captured, put into a trap, and (gasp) gets his tongue ripped out and is hit by a train. You know, that old chestnut. By the way, to anyone who has seen this, what is up with this detective’s outfit? He’s dressed like he should be in the back of the car with Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, or like a Miami detective from the 1950’s. What follows is a rather funny riff from Rock, as he discusses Forrest Gump. It’s not that the scene isn’t funny, but what is it doing in a Saw movie? 75% of the film operates in this bipolar manner. Now, there’s nothing wrong with trying to reinvent a franchise, but this film often tries to have it both ways, and it doesn’t really work. Rock inserts his humor into situations that don’t need it, and while it makes it more watchable than probably Saw 4-8, it still doesn’t feel right. When he is funny, he is funny, and then when he’s serious, it almost feels as if he’s in a parody of crime thrillers.
Rock plays Detective Zeke Banks. Does anyone actually have the name “Zeke?” I’ve never met one, at least. Anyways, Zeke isn’t well regarded among his precinct, after ratting out his follow corrupt officers; said corruption forces him to keep his distance and lash out at everyone around him. His Captain, Angie (Marisol Nichols) gets fed up with his distance and partners him with a Detective William Shenck (Max Minghella). Adding to the “parody” feel is the Angie character. If you’ve ever seen the Mike Myers comedy So I Married an Axe Murderer, you’ll recall a scene where Anthony LaPaglia’s cop character tells his chief (Alan Arkin) that not only is he too nice, but he also asks him, “Why can’t you be like the captain on Starsky and Hutch?,” insisting that he should rough him up for his antics. LaPaglia’s description of that cliché is the note that Nichols plays; don’t blame her, blame the material.
So Zeke and William are assigned to investigate the body that was hit by the train, which they soon discover was the detective. They are also given a message from the killer, pretty much insinuating that there is a Jigsaw copycat killer in their midst, who has HAD IT with these corrupt LA police officers. Had. It. And the killer is going to make them pay for their sins, dammit. So Zeke races against the clock to find the killer and in the meantime we must watch gruesome killing after gruesome killing. Which, to my surprise, there aren’t that many.
I guess this sort of thing just isn’t my cup of tea anymore. Why it was as a 10 year old, I don’t know. I’ll say that Spiral didn’t ever really bore me, yet people pay good money to watch these movies to watch people suffer the most horrific of tortures, and it just isn’t for me. Samuel L. Jackson plays Zeke’s dad, and the two get their moments together, but even they don’t really work in the grand scheme of things because of the genre working against them. Rock, in particular, has a look on his face when he isn’t talking essentially reads, “I’m serious.” Again, it comes across as parody, and honestly I know that Rock is talented and there’s nothing wrong with trying something new… but this isn’t it.
Tonal inconsistencies aside, by the time you reach the ever-so-obvious twist (literally called it before entering the theatre) and a conclusion that both hints at a sequel and gives off the impression that everyone wanted the movie to be over with, Spiral ultimately, if we’re being honest, didn’t even need to be a Saw movie. There’s not really a connection, just mild references to the other movies. This could’ve just as easily have been another knockoff of Seven, but they decided to make it a Saw movie at the last minute.
Nine Saw movies. NINE. From the looks of this one, and the box office, there’s another one coming. Yet I can assure you who won’t be going.
Note: For us Samuel L. Jackson lovers suckered into seeing this, look out for a scene where someone is getting hot wax poured all over their face in a vault. It’s a not-so subtle wink to “Pulp Fiction,” but eh, we’ll take what we can get.