Spiral: From the Book of Saw – Spoiler Review


Image from Lionsgate

Detective Banks (Rock) arriving at what is his final test in the game of saw.

“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and stars Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson and Max Minghella. After a fellow detective’s body is found, clues begin to show up with a mysterious spiral symbol left at each site. Eerily reminiscent of the city’s grisly history, all fingers are pointed at yet another copycat of the infamous Jigsaw killer, John Kramer. Trapped in a mystery that requires him to dive deep into his past, detective Zeke Banks (Rock) finds himself at the center of this morbid game.

Rock’s cop killer pitch for the “Saw” franchise does not reinvent the genre, however, “Spiral” does add a layer of characterization to these films and is the first one that has felt like a real movie with a story to tell since at least “Saw III.” Despite focusing less on torture and cutting people to pieces, this movie does do enough to please fans while also offering something for those who aren’t “Saw” fans. That may also be a flaw in the film because it does feel at many moments that it is stuck between a “Se7en”-esque detective thriller and a reboot of the franchise; it never fully commits to one or the other.

This film is very different from previous entries in that there are no civilian characters we follow trapped in a room trying to escape. This contains us to the routine of cops and following a trail of clues, all leading to a final reveal. Unlike Donnie Wahlberg tracking down Tobin Bell’s John Kramer in “Saw II,” Rock’s team of detectives goes from body to body, each time finding seemingly pointless clues. There’s no pursuit of a killer and that took suspense away from some of the film, leaving us with more downtime than needed. Some sequences feel very choppily edited together with points of a series of events being turned up to an eleven, followed by a few scenes in the precinct. It just felt like there were a lot of scenes cut out in between. It’s uneven, but it didn’t bother me all that much for how short the movie is. 

The inclusion of Rock as a detective in a “Saw” film was mind-boggling ever since I first heard of this film. Rock is mostly known for his comedic work so this pairing was intriguing. He does get in the mood for dramatic acting, but comedy is still present and this movie is a lot funnier than I ever would’ve expected. Credit partially goes to Samuel L. Jackson, who is playing his father and retired police chief and is in the movie about as much as you’d expect. The jokes, while limited, add humor without damaging the narrative of the intentional seriousness of the film.

Image from Lionsgate

Tobin Bell is the one thing missing in the film and you can definitely feel his absence throughout. Ever since he died in “Saw III,” John Kramer’s apprentices and copycats have been thrown at us left and right – this franchise has struggled for a long time to fill that void with a compelling enough villain. Costas Mandylore’s Detective Hoffman had four movies focused on him being the new Jigsaw, yet his character was still unbearable. “Spiral” does not fix this issue, and I believe it adds a slight insult to injury by retracting from Kramer almost entirely outside of a few exposition moments in the evidence room.

When the trailer for this film came out what seems like an eternity ago, I had an instinct that Rock’s rookie partner, played by Max Minghella, would be the copycat killer. As the film went on, it became significantly more obvious that my prediction was correct. This twist could be seen from a mile away, and I don’t know how anyone, when watching, didn’t see certain sequences that stuck out to them as unnatural. My list of suspects narrowed to one when supposedly a clue revealed Minghella’s character as dead. For the previous victims, flashbacks showed the whole process of the traps doing what they were made to do, but when it came to Minghella it never showed the flashback, only a few unrecognizable quick cuts. The reveal was so abrupt that I wonder if the movie knew everyone was going to figure it out ahead of time. Of the responses I’ve seen so far, not one has thought this twist was at all unexpected. It may detract from the standalone effect “Spiral” has, and he may not be a great character, but I think Detective Hoffman being revealed as the killer would’ve made for a much better twist and still be just as believable. I would’ve even taken Cary Elwes’ Dr. Gordon, as his character was also revealed to be an apprentice of John Kramer in the atrocity that was “Saw: The Final Chapter”/“Saw 3D”/“Saw VII.”

Cheating in the game of saw has been evident when Kramer himself is not the gamekeeper, and I don’t know why they did it again. Explaining Rock’s backstory and his connection to Minghella’s character was compelling enough, so why was there a need to kill Samuel L. Jackson? Rock played the game and won, saving his dad’s life. However, a trap was set for the SWAT team to keep them out and when they hit the tripwire in front of the door keeping them out it set the trap off again, leading to Jackson’s death. The kill count is fairly low in “Spiral,” so I could see that excuse, but for how charismatic Jackson is, this brutality is meant to be saved for Detective Hoffman and Amanda Young in the previous “Saw” films, both of whom purposefully rigged certain traps so they couldn’t be won. John Kramer was the only one willing to give his victims a second chance at life, after all, that’s why he started this twisted game.

Of the five traps in the film, I found all of them to be gruesome, but two, in particular, were truly hard to watch. Each was heartless, but I still don’t see any of these wildly standing above as one of the greats. “Saw” veteran, Darren Lynn Bousman, directed this film having formed the future of the franchise after taking over for James Wan as director and helming “Saw II,” “Saw III,” and “Saw IV.” I’m glad they did bring someone in with experience, especially when directing the terrifying trap sequences, but I’m not so sure as his directing of the central plotline. I would’ve preferred having another person with strengths at directing something more than a medium quality “Criminal Minds” episode.

Image from Lionsgate

I will hand it to him when wrapping the film up because it is easily the best part. I typically don’t like “copy-pasting” in sequels (or in this case, spinoffs) but ramping up the remix of the “Hello Zepp” theme before the film concluded was one of the only things I wanted to see again. Just like the first film with Kramer closing the door on our screaming protagonist cutting the screen to black, Rock is left trapped in a warehouse, only this time there was no utterance of the line “game over.” I guess this wide-open conclusion could’ve used a bit more clarity, perhaps in an end credits scene, but I’m not sure if Minghella locked Rock with the SWAT team in the warehouse with no exit point or he just shut the door for dramatic effect.

Far from perfect, “Spiral” is very entertaining and doesn’t strive for the full-throttle, aggressive violence we’ve grown accustomed to with previous “Saw” films. These movies are dirt cheap to make and have drained wallets for years, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they return with yet another sequel in which I’d gladly welcome. 

Final Grade: C+