The Saw franchise is basically a police procedural with heightened gore and tortuous riddles (CSI: Marquis de Sade Escape Room). While corrupt cops have been Jigsaw’s targets in the past, in Spiral: From the Book of Saw, it’s an entire department that is systematically being plucked off.
Chris Rock plays Metro Police Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks, an honest cop working in a den of debauched officers and lives in the shadow of his superstar officer father (Samuel L. Jackson). Given his pariah status, Zeke is assigned a rookie partner named William Schenk (Max Minghella) to help him solve a string of strikingly similar murders to those of Jigsaw that haunted the city years ago. Unlike past films that have found creative ways to “resurrect” the prolific puzzle-maker, Jigsaw is nowhere to be found here, save for his bloody legacy and penchant for protracted death.
The hallmarks of the series, including elaborate traps, sketchy people, and moral conundrums with grisly consequences, are all accounted for here. And while Spiral: From the Book of Saw is not a complete reset of the franchise, it does tend to right the ship after the last underwhelming entries (that would be Saw: The Final Chapter aka Saw:3D and Jigsaw). Part of this restoration is due to bringing back director Darren Lynn Bousman, who is responsible for Saw II, III, and IV, before passing the baton to David Hackl. Bousman can kick up considerable atmosphere and even squeegee off the algae-covered coating of many of the earlier films.
“…solve a string of strikingly similar murders to those of Jigsaw…”
Writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, who collaborated on Jigsaw, muster up just enough plot twists to keep die-hards satiated. It’s when they steer into awkward social commentary that Spiral: From the Book of Saw feels off-balance. It’s a great concept, given Jigsaw’s past moralistic motivations and the current law-enforcement reckoning taking place in the United States. But, these themes and ideas never feel baked into the narrative’s core and therefore appear perfunctory. Elsewhere within the story, cliches abound, from the barking police captain (Marisol Nichols) to Zeke’s tattered marriage to departmental head-butting.
Rock, who executive produced the film, does a decent job for the most part. When we first meet his Det. Banks, he’s pure Rock, seemingly dusting off some new standup material with his squad before an undercover heist. One wishes that this version of his detective stuck around, but he slips into serious mode as the film progresses, battling daddy issues (who wouldn’t with Jackson as your pop?), a failing marriage, and a killer targeting those around him. Even though these elements are cliched, Rock handles them well and is believable in the room.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw manages to engage those who are conditioned to know what to expect (hyper cut flashbacks, last-minute reveals, and third-act twists) and devotees of the franchise. Given Rock’s involvement and his acerbic comedic commentary, the film could be seen as a missed opportunity, for sure. But as we all creep back into the theaters from our COVID cocoons, it serves up just the right amount of cinematic comfort food to keep us coming back for another serving.
"…muster[s] up just enough plot twists to keep die-hards satiated."