“I want to play a game…” the Immortal words of John Kramer, played by the always superb Tobin Bell that have now bled from the echelons of the horror genre to become part of our everyday pop culture. There aren’t many who don’t know what the quote is, where it comes from and what ridiculously gory trap or game it proceeds with Charlie Clouser’s now immortal and ever booming score. There will be blood, indeed, as Saw went from a small, independent B-movie bloodfest into a fully fledged franchise that, unlike many of the victims of Jigsaw, refuses to die.
Seven sequels – including, like many horror franchises before, a jump into the realms of 3D – and a huge kill count later, Saw is back with a new, rebooted and quasi-sequel starring, produced and co-conceived by Chris Rock. That confusion you’re feeling was the same for many when it was first announced but the genius stand-up comedian is stretching his acting muscles again (which, to be fair to him, he has showcased brilliantly before) but the choice of film is both perplexing and supremely interesting. Jumping from his funnier roles into that of a esteemed yet damaged police detective, immediately he makes the lure of Spiral even more intriguing, doubling down with the addition of Samuel L. Jackson as well, taking a Nick Fury break to chase after some mother-you-knows.
There’s a Jigsaw copycat/fan on the loose and he/she is attempting to utilise all that made the original serial killer so effective and powerful. This time, he/she is taking aim at the police and their powers, both good and bad and how, when pushed, they may in fact be more bad than good. Rock’s Zeke Banks brought a crooked cop to justice in a murder case and is still feeling the after effects from his fellow precinct compatriots when the killer strikes. Teamed with rookie cop Schenk (Max Minghella), he is tasked to lead the hunt to bring him in, as well as continue to try and repair his relationship with his father (Jackson), the distinguished former chief of police.
Sadly, despite Rock and Jackson‘s involvement and former Saw helmer Darren Lynn Bousman, who helped keep the series ticking over in Parts II, III and IV, those problems that made the series slowly dwindle are evident (and even amplified) again as Spiral suffers from nonsensical plot points, poorly conceived characters and a misjudged narrative that while it should be applauded for trying something different, falls flat and ultimately provides nothing new.
Traps are as gory and crazy as ever, of course, and its story about taking a pop at police corruption – something that is a daily news occurrence these days and needs serious readdressing – doesn’t penetrate the way it should, eventually just becoming reminiscent (in the worst way) of the series’ lesser efforts. Characters make decisions that no-one, especially in a police capacity, would make (Why run as a cop when we can leisurely stroll? No, don’t go in the horrible room alone!) and the twists and turns are so poorly conceived that it won’t take many long to work out what are supposed to be surprises. Still, Rock‘s effervescent turn and Jackson’s propulsive nature keep the film ticking over just enough to pull it from the “awful” pile and, for many, will provide some mild entertainment. Just about.
Crime, Horror | USA, 2020 | 18 | Cinema | 17th May 2021 (UK) | Lionsgate Films | Dir.Darren Lynn Bousman | Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichol, Samuel L.Jackson, Ali Johnson