Review: Bousman's 'Spiral' is a Refreshing Update on Saw's 'Live or Die'
by Zofia Wijaszka
May 13, 2021
I must admit, I was terrified after watching Saw for the first time. I was thinking about Jigsaw coming after me and telling myself that I needed to set a good example – I was in middle school at the time, after all. When I re-watched the entire series a few years later, I saw the franchise in a completely new light. Instead, I concentrated on what John Kramer was attempting to convey to us – a torturous lesson about morality and the consequences of his victims' actions. In Spiral, the new and refreshed thriller "From the Book of Saw", Darren Lynn Bousman (also the director of Saw II, III, and IV) doesn't exactly reinvent the killer genre. Still, he certainly takes the unusual atmosphere of the cult franchise and blends it with contemporary components, creating a thrilling, bloody spectacle that feels like a captivating ode to its predecessors.
It would be an understatement to say that this officer, Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), has difficulty working with others and listening to his boss, Captain Garza (Marisol Nichols). When a rookie, William Schenk (Max Minghella), is assigned as his partner, Banks has a lot to say. But there's no time for pettiness when the duo is given a new case involving murders committed by a Jigsaw copycat. After mysterious, Tiffany-looking boxes from the killer addressed to Zeke start to appear, we're not certain whether it's a personal vendetta against him or if it's because he's the lead detective. Banks and Schenk must race against the clock before another detective is murdered by this dangerous copycat.
The inventiveness of the traps has always been a strength of the Saw franchise. It's a big part of what makes the movies so interesting. Spiral does not disappoint in continuing this tradition. The very first trap of the new thriller makes me nauseous while also piquing my interests. Although the traps aren't as sophisticated or complicated as the legendary reverse bear trap or rib spreader, they will still catch you completely off guard. I don't want to reveal too much because there is a certain pleasure (can I even say that in this case?) to discovering them. Nevertheless, be ready.
Bousman hit the jackpot casting Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, and Samuel L. Jackson (who plays Zeke's father, ex-cop, and former captain of the precinct). While Nichols and Jackson take on supporting roles, the dynamic duo of Rock and Minghella is distinctive. And I have to say that Chris Rock is fantastic as Zeke Banks. The actor delivers an exhilarating performance and I could watch several more sequels with him in a main role. There are numerous films in which we see a rookie and an experienced cop teaming up. Usually, they don't like each other, they have a hard time working together, but, in the end, they come together and crack the case. Both actors in Spiral bring a sense of freshness to the table. The film doesn't so much focus on Schenk being a rookie. Instead, him and Banks talk about marriages, kids, and complicated family life while being a cop.
Directing another Saw movie again, Bousman does an excellent job in associating Jigsaw's bloody nostalgia and legacy while incorporating a modern, sociopolitical narrative. I loved seeing another legendary feature of the Saw films: shaky, flashing scenes in which the main character experiences a range of emotions or the victims attempt to free themselves while their lives flash before their eyes. We see pig masks and hear the soundtrack we can't stop thinking about, but also get a new story that still manages to surprise at the end.
The thrilling tension and pace of Spiral pick up when another person close to Zeke becomes a victim of a copycat. The suspense builds steadily, to the exhilarating point where we can't wait to find out who's behind all of it. Spiral may not reinvent anything. Still, seeing another trap, another broken bone, another splatter of blood feels nostalgic, strangely enough. We cringe, close our eyes, and remember this feeling when we experienced it all for the first time. Although John Kramer may be long gone, Bousman ensures that we have the same feeling of uneasiness with Spiral as we had with the previous chapters.
Even though voices seem to be divided in regards to the new film so far, I am certain that horror fans and, most importantly, fans of the Saw franchise will love the latest installment. I found the moral polemics of the series extraordinarily intriguing. The legendary "Live or die, make your choice" mantra stayed in my mind long after watching each of the films, including Spiral. With this new chapter, we are reminded of the genius and thought behind them, all that goes into making them more than just torture. With Spiral, there's more blood, more complex characters, traps, and Chris Rock in the lead role. What more could you want?
Zofia's Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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