by @holocronGeorge for @horrornecronom
Ever since there were initial rumblings of a Chris Rock-driven Saw film, Spiral has easily been one of the most intriguing horror films on the horizon. Now that the film has finally been released (after several date shifts due to COVID-19), it’s unfortunate that Spiral ultimately fails to live up to its potential as a unique, timely installment in the long-standing horror franchise, despite being a serviceable and entertaining reentry into the series.
The ninth installment of the franchise sees director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV) renter the fold with James Wan and Leigh Whannel returning as executive producers. Spiral follows Detective Zeke Banks, played by Chris Rock, as he and his rookie partner investigate a series of grisly murders that are eerily reminiscent of the city’s dark past and loop in Zeke’s father Marcus, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
Ultimately, Spiral is more of a continuation than a reinvention. The Saw franchise dominated for much of the early 2000s, but eventually fizzled out with uninspired sequels of dwindling quality. Spiral was billed and heavily marketed as a novel take on the Saw franchise, forging a pathway to take the series into a unique future. The focus on corrupt police officers evidenced in promotional material seemed particularly timely and something ripe for exploration in a post-Get Out landscape of horror films. However, it’s not that the film fails to reinvent the franchise and explore more nuanced themes – it simply doesn’t try. The budget is notably higher, the production design is more refined, and the cinematography is spectacular, but, aesthetic differences aside, Spiral feels more like a Saw X than it’s own thing. This is likely to please hardcore fans of the franchise yearning for customary suspense and deadly traps. Otherwise, fans hoping for a little more will likely leave the theater somewhat disappointed.
Another unique element of Spiral is its casting choices of Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson as the leads. It’s difficult to pin down whether this is a fault in the writing, directing, or acting, but Rock seems somewhat miscast in the film. This is particularly evident in the earlier parts of the movie as we grow accustomed to his role in the franchise, such that by the end of the film we’re comfortable with him in the role. Samuel L. Jackson, meanwhile, is fantastic again as – well – Samuel L. Jackson. He adds a much needed sense of gravitas and humor to the movie, albeit with relatively little screen time.
This isn’t to say, however, that Spiral is unwatchable. In fact, Spiral is an incredibly entertaining and thrilling film. The movie is a tight 93 minutes and flies along at a brisk pace. Sometimes, it would’ve been nice for a bit of breathing room between sequences of great intensity, but, nonetheless, the film is unlikely to bore or lose the attention of any viewers. The traps are captivating, the quick-cut and flashy editing has returned, and Spiral features many of the brilliant twists and turns we’ve grown to love in the Saw franchise that keep you guessing to the end.
It’s difficult to fault Spiral too much given that, perhaps, it falls victim to expectations of something more novel and distinct than it ultimately ended up being. It’s a shame that the film falls flat in exploring more nuanced themes and carving out its own unique sect of the Saw franchise. Nonetheless, Spiral is an incredibly entertaining film elevated by polished production design, cinematography, and trap sequences, with some unique casting choices that are bound to intrigue fans.
Images courtesy of Lionsgate