Impressions: Spiral

Spiral is the 2021 entry into the Saw franchise, although it attempts to be a post-Jigsaw and disciples movie. The journey for this movie to be made had a few false starts before they – Chris Rock and the writers/producers – came up with what was eventually the final product. Chris Rock wanted to flex his acting chops in a horror movie, while the people more interested in the Saw aspect wanted to escape the spectacle that had become Saw and really pull things back to the roots. The end result is not bad, although it had some pretty mixed reactions and some extremely poor reception from some. I am a bit late to the party, but as someone with a lot of feelings about the Saw franchise, I finally gave it a go.

Spiral opens with a cop at a 4th of July celebration. He follows a criminal down into an empty sewer only to be attacked and then wakes up in a fairly brutal Saw trap. The movie then cuts to Chris Rock’s character, Banks, as he does an “undercover” operation. We find out that Banks is on the outs with the cops in the city because he brought in a dirty cop once and hasn’t been trusted by or able to trust anybody else. He is given a partner, the wanna-be do-gooder, Schenk. The two of them are sent on what seems like a throwaway case, as Banks cannot get much in the way of real cases, which is actually the cop from the opening.

While Banks and Schenk are investigating, they get roped into a larger case for a Jigsaw copycat who claims they want to clean up the police department. The reason for picking Banks as the go-to for this copycat makes sense in that context, a cop on the outs for attempting to do the very same thing. As Banks dives further in, he loses more of the people around him, and we get glimpses into his past, including that his father was police chief when Banks turned in the dirty cop.

It’s a fairly compelling story, although a touch obvious. It is also interesting that Spiral decided to stick with what a significant chunk of the Saw franchise did and tie in “Jigsaw’s” relationship with the police. It hearkens back to certain entries in the franchise, although with Banks being one of the more compelling cop characters we were presented with.

Eventually, we find out who the copycat is and their relationship with Banks – or Banks himself – and we get the final twist ending. Overall it is a decent Saw movie, though hardly the best. It does attempt to go back to the notion of a Crime Thriller meets Horror that we really saw with the first two Saw movies, which in theory, I appreciate. In execution, it’s not the most solid mystery, and the pacing is a bit off from that perspective. If they were going to go solidly crime thriller, I think a stronger script really would have served this movie well. Instead, we get a slightly choppy mystery that depends a little too much on flashbacks to solidly land.

Where this movie fits more with the later entries of the franchise is the traps themselves. They are brutal and fairly over the top. Other than one notable exception, I was pretty impressed with them. But much like the crime thriller aspect, this movie didn’t commit to being over the top, either.

The other problem is, for me, it never truly landed the fear element. While it did gross me out, I never felt too much tension, which, again, late Saw movies were also guilty of this, but they at least brought in a deranged theatrical quality that made them so bad but still so good. So once again, the landing in the middle of the road hurt it.

I needed this movie to either be scarier, grittier, and with a more solid mystery. Or it needed to be gory, theatrical, polished, and insane. And really, for me, that is the big problem. It didn’t totally fit with the first two entries with a focus on the mystery, nor did it fit with the over-the-top drama and spectacle of the latter part of the franchise. So it ends up floating in the middle of both tracks that Saw took and sort of in the middle in terms of quality.

It, however, was lambasted unfairly by some people. This is far from the worst entry in the franchise in terms of story and execution. A lot of what we like about the later Saw movies is how bad they are, and while you can rate lower than “so bad it’s good,” I don’t think Spiral does.

Chris Rock does a good job. The story is a bit predictable but still good. The mystery, while lacking, is decent enough to keep you interested, even if you find yourself working it out quickly. I also appreciate the topical nature of a Saw movie that really goes for it as far as its relationship with cops. Saw has always been a franchise that shines a light on the issues with policing. Corrupt cops, cops that can’t control their impulses, ones that are good but sit back and do nothing about bad cops. Spiral really focuses on the things that the franchise has touched on. “Jigsaw” is attempting to clean up the police by brutally and publicly executing those that have failed them and Banks.

I just wish the movie had more meat in basically every aspect other than the gore, which is oof, and Chris Rock’s performance. More development with the mystery, a willingness to lean into the gritty nature that often serves crime thrillers. More drama and tension. More willingness to push the overall plot. And frankly… a little more heart and personality.

So bottom line? If you have read my Saw franchise ranking, then I would likely put Spiral in the middle of the pack. It does not hit the heights of the original Saw, even though that’s what it is reaching for. And while it might not be as entertaining as the “dumb fun” of later entries, it is just a better movie, to be honest. I think it’s worth a watch and deserves a bit more credit than it sometimes gets. Also, if you watched it and hated it, maybe give it another go. A lot of people were pretty harsh, but I think it has a little something there worthwhile. I am curious to see where they go with the franchise with the upcoming entry. The 9th Saw movie was initially meant to focus on the original Jigsaw without his disciples, and they might go back to that idea. I think either way, the next entry needs to be totally committed to a solid plot that brings the audience back to Saw, or it just needs to lean into what made entries like 6 so insane but loved in that way that only horror fans can love crap like that.

Tell me what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.