A near "game over" for the longevity of the series
SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW (2021)
The Saw franchise is something I'd always known existed, but only a few years back decided to dive deep into the franchise ahead of the (at the time) latest release Jigsaw. I fell in love with the crazy gore, maniacal traps, and most of all Billy the puppet (AKA Tobin Bell), so when I heard Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson had signed on for a Saw film, I was interested to say the least. However, the final product here is a near "game over" for the longevity of the franchise.
Returning after a four film hiatus, Darren Lynn Bousman has created a hollow police procedural with glimpses of Saw. There’s an orange tint that consumes Spiral; the film is missing the looming darkness and gloom of the original set of films. Opening with one of the series’ best traps, the film quickly diverted away from the typical outline we are accustomed to, and in exchange the traps feel like less of a challenge and more like just a certain death. While Jigsaw may not be behind these, we’ve come to know his code behind his traps, and in Spiral that code is almost entirely thrown out the window. While it may not be as predictable as Jigsaw’s typical maze traps, it all comes down to the execution, and all I see here is a generic brand of Se7en with some Saw traps.
I'm a massive fan of the Saw franchise, but I wouldn't say I come for the story. I've always been a fan of Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw, but it took eight films to get the entire backstory to John Kramer's reasoning. This is only the beginning of a new potential chapter, and there are so many unanswered questions that it makes my head spin. What I do like is the concept of restarting the franchise in this fashion. The premise is great, but the final direction the film took is where it struggles the most. Essentially what the film has done is take the side story of Danny Glover's detective from the first film and give him his own movie, and while that functions, it does so with limited success. Saw isn't meant to be taken too seriously, because if it is it loses its fun, slocky nature. Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger's Spiral isn't a horror; it's a thriller, and that in itself is a crime.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
A few years back Chris Rock was the one that brought the idea of Spiral to life, and it's only right that the man would be the one to star. Chris Rock brings the humor to a brutal Saw film, and when he's cracking jokes it works a majority of the time, but when Rock is trying to bring it in for the more serious moments, whether forcing his Captain to give him the case or shouting aggressively, Rock is trying a little too hard to be seen as menacing. Samuel L. Jackson even tags along as Rock's father, and his role in the film is a little too minimal for my taste. The impact that the final scene is supposed to have is lesser because of the amount of time we have to see Jackson's story play out. The remaining actors play their parts, but when it all comes down to the end, the twist is extremely obvious once you've met all the characters with many being one note.
P.S. The absence of an official Jigsaw appearance makes my heart heavy.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Spiral is gritty, but made the odd decision to trade in its usual darkness for an orange tinted desert landscape that makes the film always feel like the sun is setting. The traps range from incredibly shocking (the first trap) to incredibly tame (the final trap). When there’s nine films now to reach into and compare traps, the traps within Spiral struggle to rank high among those of the Jigsaw killer.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The iconic score we’ve all come to love from the Saw franchise is barely present. The score we are given is reminiscent of a crime thriller rather than the gruesome horror we've come to know, and in ways that works for the film that they’ve created here. However, for hardcore fans the score won't be providing them enough of what they love.
The more time that passes, the more disappointed I am with the final product. I don't hate it, but as an avid Saw fanatic that loves the character of Jigsaw and the creativity of the traps, there's just something missing. Spiral works enough to make the experience worth your time for newcomers, but for superfans it could lean either way.