PLOT: A detective (Chris Rock) investigates the brutal Jigsaw-style slaying of his best friend, only to discover there’s a new killer out there targeting dirty cops.
REVIEW: First – I should get this out there: I’m not a Saw expert. Like everyone, I saw (SAW!) the first couple of movies, but I tapped out somewhere around the fourth installment. I never actually disliked any of the movies (that I “saw”) but what probably happened was that I missed one of the many sequels, ended up falling out of the rhythm of the ultra-prolific franchise, and just started skipping them. However, I was intrigued when SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW was announced, mainly since it emerged from a pitch by Chris Rock, who also plays the lead.
Rock has described Spiral as Law & Order crossed with Saw, and that’s pretty dead-on. It proves to be a surprisingly solid mash-up, distinguished by Rock’s performance in the lead and some ultra-stylish direction by frequent franchise director Darren Lynn Bousman. Rock plays Detective Zeke Banks, who’s like the Serpico of his police department. Hated by everyone in the department for blowing the whistle on an officer-involved execution of a witness, no one will work with him or back him up save for the cop who buys it in the first scene. Burns investigates his murder with his fresh-faced young partner (a solid Max Minghella) and discovers this new killer, Spiral, is executing cops, with his dad, a celebrated veteran (played by Samuel L. Jackson) high on the hit list.
Shot for release in 2020, the film is surprisingly timely given current events, but anyone looking for a deep dive into police corruption best look elsewhere. There’s no particular message here other than “sit back and enjoy the traps”, but it’s still an interesting take on the franchise. Rock, who recently impressed me a lot on Fargo is terrific in a straight-ahead hero part. Much more convincing as a leading man in middle age, he’s solid as the torn cop on the trail of a new killer. Rock doesn’t fall into a common comedian trap, where he plays things too seriously either. He’s not morose. There are a few great Rock riffs, like one on why there’s no Forrest Gump 2, which cuts the tension a bit. Jackson is Jackson, which is just right for a role like this, meaning he says “mutherfucker” a lot and intimidates people. He has good chemistry with Rock, while Minghella is kind of the straight man, playing everything low key in a likable way. Marisol Nichols is solid as well as Rock’s captain, a former crony of his dad’s.
Of course, in a movie like this the big question is “how are the traps?”. This might be the goriest movie of the franchise with an opening sequence involving a tongue nauseatingly effective, as is a later scene involving wax. Bousman and DP Jordan Oram have also given the movie a slick sheen with bold primary colors and a 2:35:1 scope aspect ratio that distinguishes it from the earlier films. Charlie Clouser is back to do the score, incorporating the familiar Saw theme that comes in just when you want it to.
While some may resent the fact that there’s arguably more plot than gore in this installment, it still more than delivers on the blood and carnage you expect from the series. I had a good time with it, more so than a lot of other bigger budget horror flicks, so to me, this is a continuation of the franchise that works pretty well. Check it out.