I’m not going to lie; I tapped out of watching Saw films somewhere around five. The franchise that began with Leigh Whannell and James Wan‘s iconic film about morality and repercussions took a turn towards even more elaborate and gory scenes of punishment for varying ensemble casts. That said, when I saw the first trailer for Spiral: From the Book of Saw, the latest entry, I was ready to come back home to the franchise. The film is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and written by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger. If Bousman sounds familiar, it’s because he directed installments two through four of the franchise. While the stellar marketing campaign had me intrigued, it was the film’s stars, Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Rock, that really got me excited.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw doubles down on the noir detective aspects of the SAW franchise by also making the cops the target of the new killer. In the film, a criminal mastermind unleashes a twisted form of justice. It centers on Zeke, a brash detective working in the shadow of his father, an esteemed police veteran (Samuel L. Jackson). When the murders begin, he and his rookie partner (Max Minghella) take charge of a grisly investigation that is eerily reminiscent of the city’s gruesome past. As they receive messages with Jigsaw’s spiral calling card and the creepy puppet, Zeke finds himself unwittingly entrapped in a deepening mystery that begins to circle around him.
For starters, Spiral: From the Book of Saw opens hard with a brutal tongue trap that sets the tone for the film’s gore and torture ingenuity. From there, you get the hallmarks of a SAW film. Only this time, they have new meanings. Pig mask? Check. But now, the mask has a different meaning. Instead of looking to hurt individual “bad” guys, this killer is looking to take on a system: the police. Zeke is a brash detective, but only because he has to be. For the most part, Zeke is alone and knows that everyone around him is out to get him. And by everyone, I mean the blue line of co-workers that leave dead rats on his desk and ignore his calls for support despite the danger, all because he turned in a crooked cop.
Then you queue the other elements the franchise is known for: creepy confinement and inventive torture puzzles tied to evil deeds. For Spiral, the writing team has concocted punishments for each crooked cop that fits the roles they played. Lied on the stand? Lose your tongue. Covered up the deeds of your colleagues? Well, a face covered in wax is your fate. And the ride of gore doesn’t stop because, by in large, nearly every trap is designed to more than maim the victims, and in some way more than others in the early start of the franchise. Culminating with a shocking final kill that is hard to watch.
To be honest, I didn’t expect anything from Spiral: From the Book of Saw. But what I got was a film that embraces the foundation of the franchise and focuses on justice and morality in a way that highlights that there are no good cops in this scenario and given the reality that many police departments have shown publicly over the past year, that’s the case everywhere. In fact, as Zeke, Rock plays the “good cop,” and even then, you realize just how little he thinks of people he thinks are guilty or at the very least can help him get where he needs to go. And for his part, Rock puts up an uneven but good performance. His signature voice seems out of place at moments, but in raw emotional scenes like the film’s third act, it drives the drama. Roll in the fact that Jackson plays his dad, and it all lines up. The two are believable as father and son, with a chemistry that just works.
The hardest part about Spiral: From the Book of Saw is that it’s actually hard to root for the cops. In fact, this copycat jigsaw is cleaning up a cover-up that crooked cops championed. And for his part, Zeke begins to see that. Having been shunned by his department for turning a cop who murdered a man, he understands that you can’t just keep the blue line. And while this angle is explored more overtly, it is noted. In fact, because of how the film handles this, you tend to root for Zeke and the new Jigsaw in a way.
Overall, Spiral: From the Book of Saw is a return to form for the series. The gore and traps straddle the line between being inventive and being absurd (the latter of which turned me away from the franchise). It also looks at morality beyond the individual and to the system that perpetuates the evil. Genuinely, the film feels like the closest to the franchise’s beginning than any of the other installments, and while it isn’t perfect, with small pacing issues and Rock’s performance slow to start, it just works. And I can’t believe that in the year 2021, I am, in fact, asking for more from the book of Saw.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is available in theaters on May 14, 2021.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw
- Rating - 7.5/107.5/10
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is a return to form for the series. The gore and traps straddle the line between being inventive and being absurd (the latter of which turned me away from the franchise). It also looks at morality beyond the individual and to the system that perpetuates the evil. Genuinely, the film feels like the closest to the franchise’s beginning than any of the other installments, and while it isn’t perfect, with small pacing issues and Rock’s performance slow to start, it just works. And I can’t believe that in the year 2021, I am, in fact, asking for more from the book of Saw.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime.