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Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)

SpiralLet's be upfront here: this review will contain spoilers. The biggest spoiler of all is that yet again I am disappointed and Spiral: From the Book of Saw does not involve a Jigsaw apprentice Battle Royale (I imagine it would be like Robot Wars/Battlebots but with a lot more blood). But dammit, we fought through a global pandemic and waited a whole year for this film to finally come out, so maybe I might lower my expectations a bit for this Saw-spinoff from the mind of none other than Chris Rock.

Detective Zeke Banks is a cop who doesn't like to play by the rules, and since he doesn't trust any of the other cops in Homicide (they all hate him because he turned in a dirty cop) he doesn't want a partner either. But his Chief insists, and so he gets a rookie detective, William Schenk - just in time to start investigating a series of murders of cops in gruesome and highly inventive ways. Taunting videos and clues left at the crime scenes lead Zeke and the other detectives to believe that the killer is another copycat of John Kramer, the original and now long-dead Jigsaw killer... but that doesn't get them any closer to discovering the new killer's identity. As Zeke continues to investigate, it becomes clear that events from his past are somehow key to the killer and may reveal their identity, but can he discover it and stop them in time before someone close to him dies?

Oh boy. Oh boy oh boy oh boy. A lot of us were a little bit worried when the news broke that Chris Rock had had an idea for a new Saw film, but I have to say that the basic idea behind this movie isn't half bad. The original theme running through the Saw movies (and John Kramer's twisted philosophy) was to punish those who had squandered their lives or hurt/abused others, and so the idea of a new Jigsaw killer going after corrupt cops works well. And hey, who doesn't like seeing crooked cops suffer? But somewhere between concept and execution, things went somewhat sideways, it seems, because this film is kind of a mess.

It starts early in the film, with the character of Zeke (played by Chris Rock) apparently channelling the entire book of Loose Cannon Cop cliches - but I guess he has a lot to live up to seeing as his father is Samuel L Jackson, so we'll excuse it. Still, it feels obvious and, well, cliched. The scene where we're introduced to Zeke, undercover with a drug gang, also feels like it's trying way too hard, with several minutes of dialogue about Forrest Gump which just screamed out, "We're trying to write dialogue like Quentin Tarentino!".

But the first alarm bell started to sound for me when the cops watch the first video from the new "Jigsaw", and see a red spiral painted on a wall. "It's the symbol of the Jigsaw killer," one cop states grimly. Uh, unless I hallucinated seven of the previous films, the "symbol of the Jigsaw killer" was a puzzle piece, hence the name Jigsaw. The spiral really only featured in the last film, Jigsaw, as part of the "Human Cuisinart" trap (technically the "Cycle Trap" but that sounds so boring). It should also be noted at this point that the other writers on Spiral were Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, who were also the writers of Jigsaw, so...

Alarm bell number two started ringing shortly thereafter, when a cop states, "But Jigsaw never targetted cops!" Well, apart from David Tapp from Saw (and the video games),  Eric Matthews in Saw II and Daniel Rigg in Saw IV, that is. And maybe this wouldn't be too big a deal, if not for the fact that the director of Spiral is Darren Lynn Bousman - who also directed Saw II, III and IV. This bothers me because I think it shows a distinct lack of care about things like series continuity or even basic details about the previous films - especially when you've got the same director involved. It's not (just) me being overly pedantic over continuity; it feels like no-one really cared about any of the films that had come before this one (and hey, maybe that's not a 100% bad thing, but...)

The third and final alarm bell, complete with "lazy writing" klaxon, came when [SPOILER] it seemed like rookie detective William Schenk had become another victim of the new Jigsaw killer... only we never see his body, just some skin with a ridiculously prominent tattoo on it, so it's made abundantly clear that he's the killer. After that, the only mystery left in the film is the why, and since every other dead cop has been seen to clearly be corrupt, it's an easy bet that it has something to do with that.

What else is there? Oh, the traps. They're pretty original, although requiring such a level of ridiculous planning that it would probably make John Kramer or Mark Hoffman take a step back and go, "Now that's a bit extreme..." They're very cinematic, and bloody, and thematic (especially the last trap, dodgy SWAT team reactions aside). If you're there purely for the traps, then I doubt you'll be disappointed (unless you think too hard about the setup for some of them). And the movie is clearly setting things up for a potential sequel, because by gods, we're going to keep milking this franchise even after bits have started falling off.

Just leave me imagining Drs Lawrence Gordon and Logan Nelson watching their morning news and doing simultaneous spittakes when they see the story about the new "Jigsaw killer", before sighing and getting out the box full of disturbing engineering schematics, because as a continuation of the Saw "legacy", this film is pretty disappointing. It had promise, but a whole lot of lazy writing wrecked all of that.

2.5 out of 5











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