Based on an idea by Chris Rock, the latest entry in the long-running horror franchise is suffocatingly self-serious and dull
When it was first announced that Chris Rock would be producing and starring in a Saw sequel it was an intriguing prospect. He didn’t seem the obvious fit for the franchise, but his unique voice, combined with other recent comedy-to-horror transitions like the Halloween reboot and Jordan Peele’s superb directorial work, gave a promising air to the project. Sadly, it has not panned out well and Spiral (with its absurd “From the Book of Saw” subtitle) arrives as a witless and overly self-serious affair that is unlikely to appeal to series fans or win over new viewers.
Rock stars as Detective Zeke Banks, the only clean cop in a deeply corrupt precinct in an unspecified city. Distrusted by his fellow officers, he’s partnered up with idealistic rookie William Schenk (Max Minghella) as he hunts a serial killer who seems to be targeting his corrupt colleagues, killing them with elaborate traps in much the same way as original Saw baddie Jigsaw.
Banks’s hunt for the killer is never all that compelling, the story’s twists and turns obvious from a mile away to the point that you’re basically just going through the motions until the film confirms a suspicion you’ve had for the past 30 minutes. It doesn’t help that Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger’s script (notably, Rock has no writing credit) is absolutely leaden, weighed down with poorly handled exposition and never landing the political blows it wants to, all delivered by a mostly piss-poor cast.
Rock’s performance occasionally raises a smile, but Minghella and Samuel L. Jackson – playing Zeke’s high-ranking father Marcus – just seem bored, while the supporting actors are dire. This extends to the villain, who never manages to raise the air of charismatic menace that Tobin Bell brought to Jigsaw, and even the gory, gruesome traps aren’t that interesting.
Yes, there’s some wince-inducing body horror as tongues and fingers are torn asunder, but nothing here is anywhere near as iconic as the needle pit or reverse bear trap from previous instalments. Their inclusion mostly feels forced, necessities to tie Spiral in to the rest of the Saw franchise, but without much imagination put into their actual construction.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman doesn’t limit his aping of the original franchise to just the traps, though – every scene of Spiral seems to lift all its stylistic tics from the mid-noughties, making everything look immediately dated. The ugly visuals, all jaundiced yellows and sweaty sheens, are forgivable in a film about gruesome torture, but the fact that Spiral often looks like a parody of itself is not.
Long term Saw fans will be let down by the scarcity of inventive traps here, while other viewers will be put off by the gore and general unpleasant scuzziness that coats every second. This is a reboot for nobody, dragging a franchise that belonged in the 2000s into the 2020s while completely forgetting to offer anything new. Chris Rock is a unique and brilliant American talent, one who deserves more than Hollywood has been willing to offer him, but this is a massive misstep for him both in front of and behind the camera.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is now showing in UK cinemas.Where to watch