Back in 2004, James Wan and Leigh Whannell were two up-and-coming filmmakers, releasing a low-budget horror film titled Saw. It would be part of the resurgence of the controversial “torture porn” subgenre, though they denied that being their goal. Unbeknownst to them, their creation would spawn an entire franchise, mostly known for over-the-top gore, above anything else, that would span decades.
As the franchise continued, with convoluted stories, overhyped gimmicks *hello Saw 3D*, and issues from a technical perspective, we horror fans just couldn’t quit Jigsaw. Despite its lack of vigor, it was still a fun franchise to consume, though it was losing steam.
But could the ninth installment Spiral: From the Book of Saw, put in motion and starring comedian Chris Rock, be enough to revive this teetering series?
Spiral follows Detective Zeke Banks (Rock) and his new rookie partner Detective William Schenk (Max Minghella) as they investigate a potential Jigsaw copycat. This time, the traps are made for the police department and as this copycat sets sights on Banks’ colleagues, he’ll have to work quickly to figure out the next move.
Also starring Marisol Nichols and Samuel L. Jackson, Spiral certainly stands out from the others due to its more notable cast. For Rock, this genre was far outside of his wheelhouse, which was a bit puzzling (pun intended) but also intriguing for fans. He definitely adds a new energy to the franchise and his comedic quirks are sprinkled just enough to offer a small dose of levity, without taking away from the horror or tone.
The film is a slight departure from the rest of the Saw lineup, which was needed in order to distinguish this as a separate entity, reboot, spin-off — whatever classification you prefer. It exudes a very neo-noir detective thriller feel, which is why you’ll see it being compared to films like Se7en. Truthfully, this style is noticeable in the first Saw film, but otherwise got muddled as time went on. This “return to form” was a great direction to take.
But the film is still about the traps of course, though slightly different. While they are still gruesome and inventive as ever, with great special effects, it felt less shock value than some of the latter films. It’s less about a big body count and more-so focused on building out character backstories. I found this aspect to be so refreshing for the series, since it often gave us no real connection to anyone. They were only ever just fodder.
Is it truly a Saw film though? Yes and no. Director Darren Lynn Bousman — who also directed the second through fourth installments — certainly brings back some elements of the franchise and there are enough breadcrumbs throughout that show its place within the Saw universe, however, it’s really its own film.
Don’t expect a continuation of open storylines from previous films. Which is a little frustrating not knowing, considering there are supposedly several Jigsaw disciples out and about (as seen in Saw 3D and Jigsaw). But perhaps the already-in-development Saw X will answer those questions in the future.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw was a refreshing addition to the Saw franchise. It offers just the right amount of what you expect, but takes the story almost back to its roots while breathing new life into the concept. Though it doesn’t finish with the same impactful twist the series favored, it still leaves you curious for what’s to come — and I hope that includes Rock.