This is the first movie I see in theaters.
Perhaps it’s fitting that the first movie I see now that theaters are open is Spiral, since one of the last movies I saw before they closed a year ago was The Grudge. Two horror movies from franchises that have long outstayed their welcome and subsist thanks to relatively low budgets providing for favorable profit margins.
Saw is one of those franchises that, like its villain, never seems to want to die permanently. The series ushered in a new era of torture porn made on shoestring budgets, banking on the breakout success of the original to create an annual franchise. When Saw VI shit the bed and brought in about half the sales of the prior film, the folks at Twisted Pictures decided to put the series to bed with Saw 3D. But then Saw 3D made big money, so while it took another seven years for the studio to regain confidence, they did eventually go down the reboot path with a more sporadic release schedule.
Crazy to think Saw was made on $1.2 million.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is a poster child for garbage popcorn schlock movies. Chris Rock plays Zeke, a cop so contrived he could be straight out of a 1950’s serial drama if he wasn’t played by Chris Rock. Zeke is a no-nonsense detective going through a bad marriage who has issues living up to the legacy of his former police chief father’s (Samuel Jackson) name. The other cops in the precinct hate him because he turned snitch on a dirty cop. He gets assigned a rookie partner (Max Minghella) just so Rock can tell us that he works alone. If smoking was still allowed in films Zeke would no doubt be sucking down a pack of unfiltereds every hour.
Spiral is a good lesson that if you’re going to do political or social commentary, do it well. Film director Darren Bousman tries to shovel commentary on police brutality and corruption, essentially playing the ACAB line with virtually every cop in the department being dirty and crooked in some fashion (including Zeke himself). The screenwriters try to give the film the illusion of making some profound commentary without actually saying anything.
The biggest sin of Spiral is that in its efforts to be suspenseful and scare the viewer, it becomes boring and predictable. We can be sure that any time a character enters a dark room that they are about to be kidnapped by a pig-masked killer shoving some plastic wrap over their face. It happens eight times in the span of the 90 minute film. It’s also plainly obvious who the Jigsaw killer is as the character constantly tosses out vague references so we can see later on in the form of a flashback how clever the writing team was.
Chris Rock carries the film, being an actor who can mostly balance sarcastic wit with a serious demeanor. Much like Dennis Leary in Demolition Man, Chris Rock turns the film into less “Saw starring Chris Rock” but “Chris Rock in the Saw universe.” The opening scene feels right out of a Rock stand up comedy special.
The torture sequences are exactly what you’d expect where each victim is put in a position that they need to sever a body part in order to save themselves. There’s little suspense here since the trap sequences are mostly done in flashback after we’ve seen the person’s corpse, so we know they fail. The torture porn aspect also feels toned down from prior films.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is a film. It has actors that do things and eventually it finishes and you go home. Plot-wise it feels like the works of a rambunctious teenager who just learned something in their civics class and is now endlessly repeating what little information they took to look smart.