Review – Spiral : From The Book of Saw

by Nick L’Barrow

Chris Rock is a fan of the ‘Saw’ franchise, hey? Who would have thought!

After approaching Lionsgate with his own original idea to reinvigorate the Saw franchise, this film sees Chris Rock starring in the lead role of Detective Zeke Banks, as well as serving as one of the movies executive producers of Spiral: From the Book of Saw. The first official spin-off of Sawsees a darker, grittier take on the series that slightly detours from the B-grade, schlock horror-fest that the previous instalments were known for, but still has enough familiarity (and violence) to appease long-time fans.

Playing out tonal similarities to Se7en, Spiral follows Det. Banks as he attempts to track down a potential Jigsaw copycat killer targeting corrupt police officers in his LA precinct. Joined by his new partner, William Schenk (Max Minghella, The Social Network) and his former-cop father, Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), they must race against the clock to stop the body count of Jigsaw’s games from piling up.

Spiral sees the return of veteran Saw director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, III and IV) – who directed arguable some of the better films in the franchise, which is a great choice as his directing style allows a sense of familiarity that makes the movie still feel like it is taking place in the world of Saw while being a totally fresh-take on the series. The familiarity comes from the way Bousman films the ‘trap’ scenes that Saw is almost most famous for. The frantic energy through jolted camera movements, sharp cut editing and ear-piercing sound design is so reminiscent of the ‘Saw traps’ of old in a positive way. This kinetic style of filmmaking, along with the gruesome violence and darker tone make Spiral a genuinely disturbing viewing experience. And while none of the traps in the film will be on any ‘Top 10 Saw Traps’ lists – it will no doubt still cause toe-clenching squeamishness that may require looking at the screen through your fingers at times.

Rock’s story also does not shy away from on-going social and political issues, as the crux of this killer’s motive is a malicious way to invoke police reform. Spiral never beats its audience over the head with its subtle message, but when it is lingering around as the motivation for the violence, it does create a moral dilemma for the audience to partake in, adding to the excitement and thrills.

Rock also shines comedically at points in the film – a great opening monologue about why Forrest Gump would never be made in today’s social climate being a standout – which brings levity to the grittiness of the world. There are points where it does not fit certain scenes, feeling slightly hit or miss. On the opposite side of that, Rock’s dramatic turn also suffers occasionally, turning in a performance that sometimes feels like a too-hard attempt at emotionality. But, in some moments, he does come through with that gravitas, especially in the film’s third act and climax. The supporting cast are quite good with their limited screen-times, the standout being Max Minghella as a protagonist to root for as he works with Banks to crack the case.

Spiral’s climax will all please fans of the horror-series as it’s iconic score and twists are revealed in an exciting and brutal final 15 minutes. As the Saw franchise went on and the twists and turns got crazier, the series became about figuring out how the stories will end, more than what led up to the climax. And Spiral really is no exception to this, the investigation thriller story is stock standard, the acting is average, and it is not going to take home any awards for Best Movie Ever. 

However, the traps, the violence, the kinetic filmmaking, the score and the twists are enough to say that Spiral is a successful follow-up to the Saw films, a film that will not leave fans disappointed.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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