“He could be anywhere, he could be anyone. We’re gonna tear this city apart”
Just like that Saw is revived. The Saw franchise has sorely embedded itself within modern horror instantaneously when James Wan and Leigh Whannell released the first segment in 2004. The series had reached a lull and drifted from its pioneering ways, with later instalments simply existing to test audiences’ gag reflexes, but could Darren Lynn Bousman’s Spiral sway the franchise back to its esteemed position?
Bousman is no stranger to the world of Saw, with three previous installments under his belt. Joining him is Chris Rock who helms writing credits, as well as taking the lead as Detective Zeke Banks who reluctantly partners with rookie officer William Schenk (Max Winghella), as they race against the clock to solve a string of murders against the police force by a Jigsaw copycat.
Greeting Banks with more trouble is his tumultuous reputation within the force as his reputation has been plagued since he uncovered a dirty cop. Only tying the situation tighter is his estranged relationship with his police veteran father, Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson).
Persisting with the judicial rendition is a tempered story that loosely tackles a serious topic, police immorality. Such topics deserve a full backbone to thrive, but I believe that making a statement was not the goal, nevertheless the political basis could have profited off of a more rounded payoff if the bouncing clichés were not as blatant. Banks is divorced, rogue, and ridiculed, with a zealous newbie as a partner, which reads as a typical crime horror layout.
Nothing new here. Although we do not necessarily need a buzzing sub-plot of corruption for Spiral to have scored, possibly focusing less on factuating a sense of moral motive (similar to how Jigsaw targeted the ungrateful) and instead work on turning the attention towards the thrill would have helped avoidance of the negative criticism regarding a cluttered narrative.
On a positive note, I fully appreciate that Bousman aims to reimagine the tale rather than just tell the same story in an alternative light. Let’s view this in lieu of franchise semantics, Spiral is not Saw IX, the actual subtitle is ‘From the Book of Saw’. Instead, Spiral simply takes a note out of Saw’s book, an ode, a dedication. Viewing Spiral as a spin-off resolves many issues that fans have raised. Take for example the bloody and brutal traps that Saw is known for, in Spiral they do not make a keen appearance.
No longer do we witness victims suffer from what seems like an endless prolonged death. That’s not to say that the new copycat is not as harsh, as although the traps are not suffocatingly graphic, they are all nearly impossible. Each trap is slightly tuned down when compared to the film’s previous reputation, yet the lack of exposed explicatives is not to be underestimated as I still winced at the sight of tongues being ripped off, melting faces, skinning, and a body being obliterated by a train.
Conjoining the tension is an air of unease that Bousman brings to the table. With all types of cinema there is a certain sense of familiarity, a comfortable position where we know that despite hardships all will be resolved and the lead will get a happy ending. Spiral fortunately does not drift into the certain. Instead we are threatened with the fact that no one is off limits, seriously NO ONE. And its this infiltration of precariousness disavows us to tire entirely, no matter the viewer’s opinion.
Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson’s performances are one of the most applauding features of Spiral. Their witty and dishevelled relationship is reminiscent of the buddy-cop genre, with a few back and forths forcing us to warm to their characters, despite obvious flaws. Not only did I actually care about their fates, I would have happily watched an entire cop drama with them two pairing as leads.
The on-screen partnering, combined with Spiral’s general thematics reminded me of 1990s crime thrillers, with Se7en (1995) immediately coming to mind. The mimicry to exhilarating police thrillers can be seen as a far bargain when we throw in the additional elements such as the above mentioned traps and the history of the Jigsaw killer that is frequently mentioned. However, Spiral is not entirely a plea to wake up an unkempt franchise, alternatively the film offers a bridge into horror for a new generation.
Spiral has an instinctive drive for worming its way back to what made the early film’s so great, but with a contrasting guise. No longer will Saw continue as a hyper stylized, grungy gorefest with twists and turns pounding down as soon as the disequilibrium hits. Instead, the fresh take on a demented serial killer (arguable term) will breach out into a world of theatrical dramatics, heavily immersed with inner trauma and current topics.