Spiral From The Book of Saw Mostly Succeeds at Re-Inventing The Franchise

Like the killers that populate them, horror franchises just will not die. In the last 20 years, few horror franchises have enjoyed quite as much success as the Saw movies. Once an October tradition, Leigh Whannell (Upgrade) and James Wan’s Saw introduced the world to ‘Torture Porn’, leading to seven sequels over a 13 year period. But when belated sequel Jigsaw underwhelmed, the franchise stalled. To some extent, this reflected how much horror has changed since 2004. In spite of the diminishing box office returns, it was inevitable that another Saw sequel would eventually surface. Still it’s unlikely anyone had comedian Chris Rock on their horror movie bingo card as the one who would revive the franchise. Whether Rock and company deliver the shakeup needed will depend on horror fans as critics generally have hated the series.

Synopsis

Years have passed since the infamous Jigsaw killer, John Kramer, terrorized a city. But when an off-duty police detective is brutally murdered in a Jigsaw-inspired trap, fears of a copycat killer surface. Soon thereafter Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks receives a box with an invitation from the killer to play a familiar game. With a new partner and surrounded by corrupt cops he can’t trust, Detective Banks chases after a killer who’s targeting the police themselves.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw Takes The Franchise in a New Direction

After a failed soft reboot, Spiral: From the Book of Saw faces something of an uphill battle. On one hand, franchise fatigue had clearly settled in. Nonetheless, Saw fans likely wanted more of the same. Or at least something pretty close to what originally worked. For the most part, Spiral: From the Book of Saw manages to re-invent things for new and returning audiences. With director Darren Lynn Bousman (St Agatha, Death of Me) back behind the camera, the sequel feels like a Saw movie more often than it doesn’t. When Bousman draws in the elaborate traps, we’re back in familiar territory. And the traps feel a bit more inspired this time around. Tweaks to the Jigsaw Killer modus operandi also add some much needed freshness while maintaining the ‘Torture Porn’ intensity.

…the sequel feels like a Saw movie more often than it doesn’t.

Where Spiral: From the Book of Saw deviates from the formula is its cop-focused drama. It’s a story shift that’s something of a double-edged sword. Writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger lend the movie a bit more relevancy with their focus on police corruption. Though Spiral: From the Book of Saw doesn’t completely do its theme justice, it does give this sequel a reason to exist. And it successfully carves out what could be a new direction. Too bad Stolberg and Goldberg’s story also doubles-down on police procedural tropes. Scenes of cops arguing over who gets the lead on an investigation were stale in the 1990s. As a result, these bits occasionally derail the movie’s horror atmosphere. Fortunately, Bousman steers things back on track with what could be the best finale since the 2004 original.

Chris Rock Proves Doubters Wrong in Spiral: From the Book of Saw

Undoubtedly, franchise fans will make a big deal about Tobin Bell’s absence. Regardless of the fact that Bell’s ‘Jigsaw’ died in the third movie, the franchise just kept bringing him back a la flashbacks. When your central villain has been dead for more sequels than alive, however, it may be time to take a new direction. And putting Chris Rock front row and center certainly gives this sequel a different feel even if it’s very much a Saw movie. As Detective Zeke Banks, Rock ultimately proves he can do a more serious role, adding one of the franchise’s few compelling protagonists. Though it takes a few scenes to wipe away memories of Grown Ups 2, Rock pulls it off by the end of the movie. Riverdale’s Marisol Nichols feels more out of place here.

Though it takes a few scenes to wipe away memories of Grown Ups 2, Rock pulls it off by the end of the movie.

In the absence of Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw (and his apprentices) Spiral: From the Book of Saw benefits from some mystery around its copycat killer. Bousman and Rock’s updates on familiar Saw visuals tow the line between freshening things up while not deviating too far from the source material. There was little chance that the sequel’s final reveal would come close to matching the original twist. But Spiral’s surprise works within the movie’s story. Moreover, the actor occupying the copycat role delivers even if they fall short of Bell. Again it’s less of a commentary on the performance or sequel itself. After all Saw and Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw have become genre cornerstones. Perhaps Spiral: From the Book of Saw’s greatest sin is largely wasting Samuel L Jackson.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw Mostly Course Corrects The Franchise

If it’s not a perfect return to form, Spiral: From the Book of Saw still delivers a good horror movie and a middling-to-good Saw movie. At the very least, Bousman turns in a better effort than the franchise’s later sequels. Though he’s not Tobin Bell, our new copycat killer earns enough good will in the movie’s final minutes. And Rock fares much better than expected. With some decent Jigsaw-inspired traps and some effort at timely commentary, Spiral: From the Book of Saw eventually shakes off some of tired police procedural tropes in its third act. Despite somewhat missing the mark, Bousman and Rock’s new vision for the franchise deserves another movie.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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