Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Premise: A spinoff of the Saw series. A killer targets corrupt law enforcement officials and imitates the methods of the notorious Jigsaw murders.
What Works: Spiral is the second spinoff of the Saw series following 2017’s Jigsaw. Of the two spinoffs, Spiral is certainly the better movie. It is in touch with what made the earlier entries of the Saw series so successful and Spiral returns to the visceral gory thrills and the thriller-mystery aspects of the story. One of the core themes of the Saw series has been suffering toward redemption with characters forced to atone for their flaws and sins through gory traps. The traps of the original series became increasingly elaborate, eventually to an absurd degree. The traps of Spiral are scaled back to be more credible and a few of them demonstrate the awful creativity that has been central to the appeal of the Saw series. The better entries of this franchise have had a bit more to them than just gore and the premise of Spiral is in touch with the present debate about police corruption. The movie isn’t especially deep about it but the premise gives the violence and gore meaning and the traps integrate those ideas into the action.
What Doesn’t: The concept for Spiral was proposed by Chris Rock and he’s credited as a producer as well as starring in the lead role. Unfortunately, Rock is unsuited for the part. He’s not convincing as an embattled police detective (despite successfully playing a comical detective in Lethal Weapon 4) and Rock doesn’t have the range required. He does cynicism and moral indignation pretty well but an important skill of a lead in a horror film is conveying fear and revulsion. Whenever things get tense or grim, Rock just looks confused. The story of Spiral feels both familiar and incomplete. The film repeats scenarios from other Saw movies but more critically it leans on the template of police dramas and works through most of the clichés. Spiral also feels rushed. A lot of the middle of the movie comes across episodic instead of flowing organically from one plot point to the next and escalating the stakes. One of the qualities that distinguished the Saw series was its narrative intricacy and the way each installment worked toward a clever payoff. Spiral doesn’t really work up to its finale and the resolution is open in a way that feels incomplete rather than frighteningly ambiguous.
Bottom Line: Spiral is a middle-tier Saw film. It’s a return to form after the mistakes of 2017’s Jigsaw but Spiral feels incomplete and it leans on police movie clichés.
Episode: #852 (May 23, 2021)