I have been a fan of the Saw franchise since I heard the buzz from film festivals as it first made its debut.
The first entry felt fresh, new and something the genre had not done before. Even looking back on it in 2021, it stands as a nihilistic take on morality and what it means to do good in the world. Now, with eight movies under its belt, the franchise is ready for a soft reboot with Spiral: From the Book of Saw. While it offers some great moments, a strong cast, and an interesting twist on the formula, it fails to rise above feeling like a copy of a classic series.
The Saw franchise has had a rocky time with its convoluted series of sequels. They have offered a venerable ‘mixed bag’ of movies, ranging from enjoyable to terrible. Now, from the mind of Chris Rock, Spiral: From the Book of Saw is choosing to live within the grimy world of Saw without being a direct sequel. It was an odd choice for the series, but one that had potential, at least on paper.
But having now watched Spiral: From the Book of Saw, it never feels cohesive, giving glimpses of what could be without nailing the landing. Rock takes the role of Detective Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Banks, who, with the help of a new partner (Max Minghella) are pulled into investigating a brutal train accident, only to discover it is somehow linked to the infamous Jigsaw killer. It is quickly revealed that Jigsaw, or someone taking on his mantle is now targeting the police department, and it quickly becomes a game of cat and mouse to try and uncover what is really going on.
With an ex-police chief father (Samuel L Jackson), and a department that hates him due to his ‘good cop’ ways, Zeke is quickly the one thrust into the centre of this new twisted game. The question that runs through the film is how can John Kramer’s Jigsaw Killer be back, and what does he want?
It is a formula that feels very much a part of the Saw universe, and Spiral clearly wants to invoke these concepts, while also drawing inspiration from other films in the genre. While watching Spiral, it constantly felt like the filmmakers wanted to blend the core and traps of Saw with the brooding mystery of SE7EN but somehow could not make the two blend in a way that works.
You will find all the fast cuts, early 00s camera tricks and grime that the series if known for, you will also find plenty of traps and blood to keep all the gore hounds happy. Thankfully the filmmakers took inspiration from the early film and found new ways to tackle the twisted morality contraptions of the series without feeling repetitive as they did it. Starting with a twisted opening tongue trap, Spiral wastes no time getting under your skin.
Spiral had the potential to offer something new and tries to straddle the line between a new age of the franchise, while still using Jigsaw as a mythical figure tying the series of films together. Yet, without the concrete link to the previous films, Spiral: From the Book of Saw invokes the dreaded straight to VOD sequel vibes I am sure the studio would rather avoid.
Most of the cast deliver good performances, with Rock giving the role his all throughout the films 93-minute runtime. This is a film he wanted to make, and it shows. He dives into the world headfirst, living in the muck and grime while giving a portrait of a cop who wants to do good, and is stuck within a system that is holding him back. Even his out of the blue ‘Rock’ pop culture riddled style monologues work within the films context and give a taste of the broken nature of Detective Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Banks.
The supporting performances by Max Minghella and Marisol Nichols work in the context of the film giving us a taste of the jaded nature of this universe. Samuel L Jackson also delivers a solid take on the character, even if he is woefully underutilized.
There are times Spiral: From the Book of Saw clicks giving the perfect blend of reverence and reinvention, but often the film feels muddled, unsure of a true direction, leaving most of the proceeding feeling more of a rip-off than a sequel. Even the twist will leave many feeling shallow and does little to make up for the film’s shortcomings. While the series has long been known for shock endings, I saw this one coming, and I only wish they did more with the material.
The Saw series may have had its day in the sun, but there is still plenty of meat on the bones should some daring filmmaker try to take up the mantle. Sadly, this is not the film to rise to that honour and ultimately feels like a cheap imitation of much better offerings. John Kramer is dead, and Spiral: From the Book of Saw does little to change this fact, Maybe the next kick at the can will yield better results.