Despite the release of an installment dubbed “the final chapter” in 2010, the Saw franchise just can’t seem to remain dead. 2017’s poorly received Jigsaw marked the second-lowest performance in series history, yet still managed to pull in more than $100 million worldwide, an impressive haul for a film with a modest $10 million budget. After helming the second, third and fourth entries, Darren Lynn Bousman returns for Spiral: From the Book of Saw, a new offering that lands somewhere between reboot and spinoff.
Set an indeterminate amount of time after the previous films, Spiral finds a new killer cribbing from Jigsaw’s playbook, complete with elaborate traps, grainy video footage and a creepy puppet. But this time, cops are the target — specifically, corrupt cops like Marv “Boz” Boswick (Dan Petronijevic), who follows a purse-snatcher into the subway only to awaken dangling above the tracks with his tongue in a vice grip. There’s a train inbound, and Boz can either sever the tongue he’s repeatedly used to lie on the witness stand, or he can let the train splatter him all over the tunnel. “Today, it’s you who will be railroaded,” warns the voice on the VHS tape.
When the body is discovered, the case lands on the desk of detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), a veteran of the force whose unshakeable moral code led him to turn in a former partner for murdering a key witness in a police corruption trial. The blue wall of silence dictates that Zeke should be forever ostracized from his colleagues; indeed, frequent flashbacks show his fellow officers screwing Zeke over in various fashion, including refusing to provide backup during pursuit of an armed and dangerous suspect. But fresh-faced rookie William Schenk (Max Minghella) views his new mentor as a paragon of virtue, and also holds Zeke’s father, retired police chief Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson) in high esteem. Schenk is willing to put in the work to close the case, even if it means putting his career — and his life — at risk.
The extent of Rock’s range as an actor is hard to gauge; he spends the entire film either yelling at everyone around him, or firing off tired quips about toothless meth addicts and unfaithful wives. Minghella is better as the affable, eager-to-please new addition to the department, but both leads suffer from a lack of chemistry and a paper-thin script. Samuel L. Jackson seems to be the only member of the cast who knows what sort of movie he’s in, and at least he endeavors to have some fun — just try to hold back the chuckles when he stumbles upon a graffitied message that reads I want to play a game and barks “I’ll play a game with you, motherfucker!”
In 1995, David Fincher’s Se7en also paired a hardened detective with an up-and-coming rookie, and tasked them with solving a series of murders linked by intricate riddles and a collective theme. Spiral isn’t exactly treading new ground here — in fact, it mostly comes across as the less creative, less interesting version of that story. Plotted and paced like a typical police procedural, the only thing differentiating this film from others of its ilk are the franchise’s signature traps, and even those feel uninspired, despite serving up copious amounts of blood and guts. The film’s sole interesting and fresh idea, about rooting out systemic corruption in law enforcement, is little more than window dressing, and the “twist” ending is nowhere near as clever or shocking as Spiral believes it to be.
For more on Spiral: From the Book of Saw, check out Kyle’s review.