Spiral Review: Saw Spinoff Says Debone The Police
Y’all like that? I almost went with “de-tongue,” but I thought it might be a bit much for the title. Also, it might be a bit much for this paragraph. But if you’re in here to read about a Saw movie, then probably not. Anyway, let’s review Spiral, the first attempt at a kind of spin-off of the Saw franchise.
Mister Police, I Gave You All the Clues
First of all, let me admit that I am not a Saw scholar. I’ve seen a couple of the films in the franchise, but I’m no Sarah Dobbs. (Great God a’mighty, Sarah.) I say that to say that I may have missed some franchise-related Easter eggs. But it’s alright. You don’t have to have seen any of the Saw movies to watch Spiral. Because while it obviously takes place in the same universe as the Saw films, you need only a vague idea of their premise–mystery person makes people play sadistic “games”–to follow this one.
image via Lionsgate
Or to follow Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock), the focus of this film. Banks and his newly-assigned partner, rookie Detective Will Schenk (Max Minghella, also currently appearing in The Handmaid’s Tale season 4), are on a fairly routine call–train hits man–when they realize that things aren’t that routine. The victim of the train accident is a cop.
After that, someone starts sending creepy Jigsaw-style messages to Banks and the Metro Police Department as a whole. It quickly becomes clear that this someone, the Jigsaw copycat, has a vendetta against the police. Why exactly he (or she, for that matter) hates the police so much is a mystery, though. Or we’ll pretend like it is. (Note: Despite the timeliness of this movie, it wasn’t made in light of the events of the past year. It was actually written in 2018, because time is a flat circle.)
Banks is an unsurprising target for NewSaw, after all. After he spoke up against his former partner, Banks has essentially become a pariah within the department. Even the fact that his dad, Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson), was a respected police chief doesn’t seem to mean much.
If I had to give a review in one sentence, then I’d say this: Spiral certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel (the spiral?), but it’s an entertaining ride. The NewSaw, the killer mastermind, is telegraphed practically from the beginning. Even the motivation is obvious. The only mystery there then is how the detectives will react when it all comes tumbling out like intestines.
image via Lionsgate
Still, even though it’s predictable, it’s never boring. And it’s also interesting to watch the franchise closely examine the police within its universe in a way it hasn’t done before (as far as I understand). I mean, yeah. If a horror franchise is going to turn on moral failings, then the police would seem like an obvious choice. All you have to do is watch the news to find some potential players who are ripe for the pickin’. (On that note, I look forward to Spiral: District of Columbia, which I assume is the next entry in this series.)
Despite the serious subject matter (and the gruesome kills), though, I’m going to guess that this is the funniest Saw-related film. That’s due, of course, in no small part to the fact that Chris Rock is the star. If anyone can deliver a punchline, then it’s him, and the film makes the most of that. There are several clever references in this movie, including one that alludes to one of Rock’s earliest roles. (I’m not going to tell you which one, though, so it won’t spoil the surprise.) I’m sorry to report, however, that I was the only person in the theater who laughed at the Too Short joke. I hate it here (a German-American farm community that doesn’t have the decency to have a combustible Mittsommerfest).
So overall, this isn’t the wild new twist to the Saw series for which some folks might have hoped. In fact, a few critics, including my girl Meagan Navarro at Bloody Disgusting, have noted that in many ways, it’s closer to Seven than Saw. But they were always closer than you might think. The biggest difference is, Saw assumes you want to see the bloody guts of the punishment, and not just the aftermath.
So, again, this might not be the Saw film that Saw fans were expecting. But I liked it a lot, and I’m curious to see where it goes after this.
Spiral is currently in theaters.
I’m also curious about what you thought. Tell us on our social media or in the comments below.
featured image via Lionsgate
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.