I’d be lying if I proclaimed to be a huge fan of the Saw franchise. However, I always felt the first film had an intriguing idea at its core: would you rather saw your leg off or rot away in a bathroom? Instead of building upon this premise, the sequels became a gratuitous exercise in convoluted deathtraps and even more convoluted plot twists. While the Spierig Brothers attempted to breathe new life into the series with 2017’s Jigsaw, the film fell into too many familiar traps. Spiral is a better example of how to reinvent a franchise while remaining true to its roots.
Although Spiral is set in the Saw universe, it doesn’t require the viewer to see any of the previous installments. The film is cut from the same cloth as Saw, but it sticks out like a key in a needle pit. Such is to be expected when Chris Rock is the star. We all remember when Rock tried being an action hero in movies like Lethal Weapon 4 and Bad Company. He’s had better luck crossing over to other genres as of late. He made for a convincing crime boss on Season 4 of Fargo, and he shines in Spiral as Detective Zeke Banks. Of course, Rock does work some of his standup chops into the role.
Zeke is seemingly the only cop at his precinct who isn’t crooked. Well, he does pour liquor on a perp’s open wound and triple parks on multiple occasions, but his record is otherwise clean. Going against the code, Zeke turns a dirty cop in, making him a pariah at his precinct. The only ones who come close to being friends are his captain Angie (Marisol Nichols) and his new partner Schenk (Max Minghella). Zeke is targeted by a serial killer with an MO similar to John Kramer’s. This copycat, however, wears a pig mask and seeks to rid the police department of corruption. The killer takes a special interest in Zeke, him being an honest cop, although they both have very different ideas of justice.
With police reform being such a hot-button issue, Spiral feels surprisingly relevant. The film wasn’t made in direct response to certain events from the past year, as shooting wrapped in August 2019. Nevertheless, the commentary isn’t unwelcome in today’s political climate. Spiral puts a refreshing emphasis on characters, mystery, and themes over gore. That said, it wouldn’t be a Saw movie without severed body parts, and Spiralstill manages to deliver on that front. If you’re not a fan of “torture porn,” as critics put it in the early 2000s, you can gravitate towards Spiral’s story and craft. If you’re mainly here for the blood and guts, you’ll still get your money’s worth. It’s a solid balance that can appease new and old fans alike.
Does this mean Spiral fully delivers on its potential? Well, it’s the best Saw movie directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, but Spiral likely won’t have the same impact as James Wan’s original. There’s a subplot involving Zeke’e marriage that goes nowhere, and it’s unfortunate we don’t get to see more of Samuel L. Jackson as his father. Then there’s the ending, which is intense, but not as clever as the filmmakers think it is. The finale could’ve used another twist to stick the landing. As far as Saw movies go, though, Spiral is fun, well-acted, and occasionally humorous. After almost ten movies, it’s reassuring to see the franchise cut loose from its chains.