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Back in 2010 when Saw 3D (aka Saw: The Final Chapter) looked to bring the horror series to a grisly close, it was already four movies on from the death of franchise antagonist John ‘Jigsaw’ Kramer (Tobin Bell), and it did seem like there was few places left to go for the twisty and brutal death trap-filled series. But in the years following, fans demand for what had become a yearly occurrence grew again, and with 2017’s The Spierig Brothers’ underrated Jigsaw the series was back. But if Jigsaw was more of a welcome return of the series’ output, Spiral is not so much a radical reset but a ruthless progression of Saw‘s modus operandi. The series has started to move on from Kramer and his acolytes but his shadow looms over and inspires a new generation, and Spiral: From the Book of Saw is that generation.
Back when this film was announced, it came as a compelling surprise and tantalising cocktail of ingredients, with Chris Rock branching into horror, alongside series veteran Kevin Greutert, Saw II, III and IV director Darren Lynn Bousman returning behind the camera, original creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell exec producing, and Jigsaw scribes Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger all coming together for this ninth chapter. Maybe Spiral benefitted from a few things for me. Be it reduced expectations due to some wildly mixed responses, the delayed wait to see it, or the fact I was thrilled to be back in a cinematorium but as a fan of the series, I wholly enjoyed this grisly new entry and am taken aback by some of the extreme responses to it.
The story concerns the death of a police officer, which has all the trademarks of a Jigsaw killing, leaving detective Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Banks (Rock) at the gates of a very challenging investigation. Made more so by the fact that Zeke has an uneasy alliance with his fellow officers due to turning in a corrupt colleague years back and being the son of respected police chief Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson). But when this copycat killer begins sending messages directly to Zeke and making their intentions known of targeting more cops, he must work with new enthusiastic rookie partner William (Max Minghella) to piece together the puzzle as more blood is shed in the department.
This police procedural story largely is its own intriguing tale but integrates with the franchise mythos to tackle police corruption and ethics. While some of that ground is hazier, the message is clear and effectively timely, and the much discussed climax is impactfully symbolic. Indeed the script stumbles a tad in its depictions of police brutality and abuses of power, as Zeke himself – while largely clean – does partake in some of the deeds he stands against in one sequence. That said, the power of the story and its intentions remain.
The crux of what we all wanted is all here: Charlie Clouser’s pulse-racing music, the ‘rage mode’ style camerawork, the twists (admittedly less jaw dropping than some other Saw developments) and the twisted traps which are ingeniously manufactured again but two of which are nigh on inescapable – though it kind of makes sense in this film’s context. Gone are Kramer and the nightmare-inducing Billy the Puppet (though not forgotten here) but they serve as inspiration for what transpires, and we do get a particularly creepy marionette for good measure, itself allegorical in appearance.
The cast has a good chemistry together. As Chris Rock leads confidently and still gets in some laughs despite playing it straight and succeeding very well in doing so. Samuel L. Jackson was great support but it would have been nice to see a bit more of him, though all of the main supporting players fit in nicely to this overall murder investigation story, which has a throwback vote to it, despite its very modern identity. Again, there’s a point there.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw’s themes and politics hark back to the franchise’s roots, while also allowing some of the later sequels’ vengeful streaks in too, in an enjoyably brutal return to the world of Saw but furthermore a next step of it. Let the games begin…again.
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