‘Spiral: From the Book of Saw’ movie review: Chris Rock livens up Saw spinoff

An outcast police detective investigates a series of cop killings that feel a little too close to those old Jigsaw murders in Spiral: From the Book of Saw, a slick and gory new ninth entry in the Saw franchise. This one has enough bloody traps to satisfy fans of the series, and delivers a more potent storyline than most of the previous entries.

Chris Rock stars as Detective Zeke Banks, a renegade do-gooder who turned in his partner for murder some years ago and has seen his career go nowhere since. His father Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson) once ran the department, but Zeke’s Serpico righteousness has long branded him an outsider on the force.

After fellow Detective Bozwick (Dan Petronijevic) is brutally murdered in a Jigsaw-like trap that ends up with him splattered on the windshield of a metro train, the force comes together to hunt the cop killer.

Zeke convinces Captain Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols) to make him the lead on the case, which she does – but she also assigns the loner a new rookie partner, Schenk (Max Minghella).

One by one, additional police are abducted into Jigsaw-like traps and Zeke and Schenk realize they have a copycat on their hands. Can they stop the killer before he gets to them?

Spiral is surprisingly light on the Saw-branded life-or-death traps, and there’s really only three such scenes of characters struggling to save their own lives by severing their tongue or pulling the flesh off their fingers. Rock’s character has a chance to save another two, but the characters themselves aren’t given the option to play the game.

Despite the small number of victims, however, Spiral delivers the stomach-churning gore that fans of the franchise have come to expect. A face-melting sequence is particularly queasy, and stands out as one of the more memorable moments in the Saw franchise.

There’s one big weakness in Spiral’s storyline, however: while most of the earlier films were deliriously twisted in terms of narrative and trying to work out who was behind the killings, Spiral is downright straightforward. The identity of the killer is obviously telegraphed halfway through the movie, and will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen this kind of thing before.

Spiral was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who previously helmed Saw II, Saw III, and Saw IV, some of the definitive entries in the series; Saw III still stands out as the high water mark for the Saw franchise. While Jigsaw is no longer around and the series has gone through plenty of machinations, Bousman delivers a film that slides right back into that familiar Saw territory without missing a beat.

It’s odd to see Hollywood stars like Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson in roles that were previously filled (and well-filled) by the likes of Donnie Wahlberg or Costas Mandylor. While Spiral is just as gory as previous Saw entries, the presence of familiar faces in the lead roles makes it somewhat less dark and gritty of an experience.

Rock, however, keeps Spiral worth watching in a rare dramatic role: he’s so engaging here that we often wish we were watching a police procedural rather than a formulaic Saw outing. A fan of the previous Saw films, Rock initiated this pseudo-spinoff and is an unexpected but welcome presence in the lead.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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