The Saw franchise, known for its elaborate torture traps and gore porn, has perhaps overstayed its welcome at the cinema. At nine movies and counting, we are far removed from the 2004 horror classic directed by James Wan. All eyes are on the return of director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw 2, 3, and 4), and if his newest installment can reinvent the franchise and extend its lifeline. While I count the casting choice of Chris Rock as the lead detective to be an interesting one, this is a film of mostly wasted potential. A change in the color palette of the cinematography is only a drop in the water when the same tired tropes and predictable twists remain present.
There’s a Jigsaw copycat killer on the loose. After the brutal murder of an officer, the killer has the full attention of the local police department and Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock). As Detective Banks, partnered with rookie officer William Schenk (Max Minghella), investigates the possible return of the Jigsaw killer, corruption in the police department slowly unveils itself. Banks becomes increasingly embroiled in the killer’s morbid game, as he attempts to prevent more lives from being lost.
Fans of the Saw franchise should be entertained by Spiral. The movie has moments that will make you cringe. There are traps which will make your skin crawl imagining what it’d be like to be a victim, and the proceeding gore is an aspect the film capitalizes on. The film nods at the original film, with a moment where Rock awakes handcuffed to a pipe and provided with a saw; variations of the classic Saw theme play interspersed throughout the film. Bousman knows what is expected and what fans want to see out of a Saw movie. But there are eight other movies like this – what is stopping Spiral from being lost in the mix? The working parts of the film could’ve elevated Spiral and pushed the franchise into a fresh direction…but these pieces are poorly utilized. And when I say pieces, I mean Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson.
Chris Rock, a comedian known for voicing Marty the Zebra in Madagascar and starring opposite Adam Sandler, is not the actor you’d typically consider for a lead role in a grisly horror movie. But here we are. My hope was with the inclusion of Rock, the film could add a darkly comedic side to the franchise. I don’t know how it would work, but I’d trust Chris Rock to figure it out; he’s a funny guy. For Spiral, this is not the case. Rock attacks a legitimately dramatic role. While walking to the first crime scene with his rookie partner, he does appear to almost be testing out new material about women, marriage, and Pilates not existing, but for most of the film he keeps a serious face. Rock is entertaining as Detective Banks, and I’d watch him again in a similar role, but he’s nothing to gush over.
Playing Chris Rock’s father is Samuel L. Jackson, as former chief officer Marcus Banks. Plain and simple, there is not enough of Jackson. He shows up one moment, and then disappears the next, only to return near the very end. Trust me, I didn’t just spoil something by saying that. The father-son relationship between Rock and Jackson’s characters is hardly explored, and the two needed more time on screen together.
Ultimately, Spiral should satisfy those who are still following along with the convoluted timeline of the Saw movies. Even those looking for a quick adrenaline rush should be entertained. But I was really hoping for more from this movie with the inclusion of Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson and was disappointed.