Review – Spiral: From the Book of Saw

I’m going to start by stating plainly that I did enjoy this film. That’s why I’m giving it a 3-star review. It’s a low 3, I don’t believe in half-stars, but a 3 nonetheless. My feelings for the movie are within the context of this as a franchise and what it’s doing within that established framework. There’s a lot of issues in this film, plotholes so big you can lose the whole movie inside them. However, I think these are somewhat forgivable in the context of this being both a sequel and the setup for a new line of films.

The film is deeply, deeply indebted to 90’s David Fincher. If you want to have an idea of the tone then just think Saw meets Se7en. Down to the cinematography it’s very much entrenched in those 90’s and early 2000’s thrillers. Tony Scott’s in this a lot as well. I guess you could make a case that the concept is dated but for me these films are timeless. Filmmaking with a sense of insomnia and overbearing heat.

Chris Rock is the anchor of this movie. When I heard that not only was Rock in this movie but he pitched Spiral I was in disbelief. I would never have put Saw and Rock together. It works really well though. A lot of his dialogue was essentially standup material but it was used as a cover for his brooding underbelly. He’s playing both tragedy and comedy and for me he really pulls it off.

Taking the franchise into thriller territory anchored by a layered character is why I liked the film. I don’t think it entriely pulls off most of what it’s trying to accomplish, a lot of what it does doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It is definitely trying to elevate a flat franchise. The Saw films really became all about the kills and the traps after a while. After Saw II for me I think they missed what made the franchise originally interesting. Spiral is trying to shift the focus of these films so you’re not rooting to see people killed horrifically but actually see the horror of the situation they’re in.

The film is far from entirely effective in its endeavours. For me it was the third best Saw film but it’s important to remember what a low bar that is. But it’s trying. It’s really hard to fault something that wants to make the best version of an idea. Unfortunately Saw just never was a great idea in terms of being a franchise. It was a great idea in terms of being a way for indie-filmmakers to establish themselves. It was kind of a punk-rock concept at the time. If Saw HAS to be a franchise and has been misguided for two decades then Spiral is the right course correction.

A valiant effort at a different angle on an exhausted idea: ★★★