Spiral (or Spiral: From the Book of Saw, if you need the full title as indicator of what you are getting into) revives a franchise that distinctly belongs to a sub-genre of horror that has fallen out of favor in recent years. Torture porn had its heyday after 9/11, and the Saw franchise was at the forefront with a sequel nearly every year soon after the first film was a success. We were promised the end with Saw: The Final Chapter in 2010, but that turned out to be untrue when it was revived in 2017 with Jigsaw. Spiral takes the series in a new direction, indicated by a new title and higher caliber cast members than typically found. Unfortunately, beneath the fancy new marketing is just another Saw film, derivative and predictable even with a bit of social relevance added to the formula.
Rather than a continuation of the storyline from the previous films, this is a movie about a copycat killer existing within the same universe as the Saw films. Upon investigating a supposed suicide case in the subway system, Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) suspects that there is more going on. When the victim is revealed to be a police officer, a serial killer sends a message claiming responsibility for the carnage. Soon after than additional victims are found, each a cop in the same precinct. Despite heading up the investigation, Zeke gets little support from his department after being labeled disloyal due to his past reporting his dirty partner to Internal Affairs. It takes his chief assigning him a new partner (Max Minghella) to get Zeke to trust another cop while working to save the rest of them.
Even by adding a storyline involving dirty cops and racial diversity in the casting, Spiral tends to still feel dated in its reliance on torture porn as the primary source of thrills. The suspense elements were dispatched quickly after the first film, in favor of focusing on the creativity of the gore, and with each sequel stakes had to be raised. By the time we got to the “last” in the series, the traps torturing the victims had increased in size and creativity, but Spiral seems to tone these elements down, placing more focus on the storyline. Unfortunately, the story is not nearly good enough to make Spiral feel like an advancement in the series, and what gore there is feels like a throwback to a genre that has fallen out of favor with audiences.
Apparently, it was Chris Rock’s love of the franchise that had him pitching this film concept to the studio. While it is nice seeing some larger stars in the film, including Samuel L. Jackson as the esteemed officer and father that Zeke is in the shadow of, these casting choices don’t always pay off. Jackson really isn’t in the film enough to have much impact, and Rock seems to yell his way through the entire movie in place of a more nuanced performance. A lot of this may come more from the disappointments of the screenplay, which doesn’t provide enough interesting material for any actor to do much with. As was always the case, it is the practical effects and creative deaths that are the real stars.
For those die-hard gore-hounds that still enjoy the torture porn aspects of the franchise, this may provide some enjoyment. At the same time, some of these selling points have been diminished in favor of credibility. While this may work to bring in a few new fans, at least ones that are dedicated to the movie stars willing to attach themselves to trying to revive the dead series, it feels like a compromise which will disappoint most audience members. Fans of Rock, Jackson and Minghella might buy tickets for the cast, but there is a potential that the gore will turn them off. On the other hand, those buying a ticket/disc for the gore itself may be disappointed to find that there is less of it this time around. And even those who have followed the franchise from the very beginning may be let down, because there is little connecting this story to the previous films, even abandoning some of the most iconic design elements other than the spirals.
The 4K Ultra HD release of Spiral also comes with a Blu-ray copy, as well as a code for a digital copy. Special features are included on both of the physical discs, highlighted by two commentary tracks and a few featurettes. The first commentary track includes veteran Saw director Darren Lynn Bousman, along with one of the screenwriters Josh Stolberg and composer Charlie Clouser. The second commentary has producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg. The featurettes include a basic one about the making of the film, as well as one specifically looking at the design of the film’s traps and another about the marketing for the movie. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the creative death traps would garner more attention than themes and casting in the special features. There are also trailers included.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 4/10
Special Features: 7/10