New city, new games, new killer. This time, someone is targeting corrupt cops. The department has to work to find who is setting these traps as the body count continues to grow.
Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III) returns to direct the exciting latest installment of the Saw franchise, Spiral. Co-written by Josh Stolberg (Jigsaw, Piranha 3D) and Pete Goldfinger (Jigsaw, Piranha 3D), Spiral acts as a reinvigoration of the franchise horror fans know and love. Detective Zeke Banks is an outsider in his department for ratting out his partner who committed a horrible crime years ago. Now with a new rookie partner in tow, Banks is put on the case as cops in his department are killed off one by one in elaborate traps modeled after the infamous Jigsaw killer.
With this now being the 9th Saw film, Spiral still manages to breathe new life into the well-trodden franchise. Some of the more obvious, surface-level changes are the entirely new cast and the fact that the film takes place in a new city. Yet what really makes the plot of Spiral stand out is the targets of these twisted games. In previous Saw films we saw cops targeted among the numerous victims, but the reason always went back to what Jigsaw believed was a wasted life. This time, the killer is targeting cops who have committed various corrupt atrocities within a single department. It’s incredibly topical for what is going on in the US and it’s sure to polarize audiences, depending on their feelings towards cops.
This entry attempts to find a balance between adding to the franchise, while also being a standalone film. For the most part, Spiral achieves that balance. It has the intricate traps fans have come to expect and each trap is meant to “reform” the victim, if they are able to survive. The one thing that Spiral might be lacking a bit compared to its predecessors is the big twist. Time and time again the Saw films managed to pack in surprises to varying degrees of success. For audiences with a keen eye, it is fairly easy to figure out at least most of what the twist in Spiral is. The first two thirds of the film are pitch perfect, but the final act reveal leaves a bit to be desired. Not only is the twist fairly easy to figure out, but certain aspects of the killer’s motive don’t necessarily make sense. The filmmakers clearly set up Spiral to be the beginning of a new Saw franchise, so I’m willing to be more forgiving of the end knowing it is a potential lead-in to a sequel.
Every single cast member in Spiral is fantastic. Chris Rock (Grown Ups, Fargo) stars as Detective Zeke Banks. After Banks’ bad experience with his old partner, he’s understandably untrusting of other cops in his department. Between that and the legacy of his father, who was the former captain at this precinct, Banks has a lot to contend with. Rock gives what might be the best performance I’ve ever seen from him, delivering not only an emotionally charged portrayal of the character, but also still injecting some of his signature humor. Max Minghella (The Handmaid’s Tale, Horns) plays the rookie partner, William Schenk. Minghella does a fantastic job of endearing the audience to his character. He is the wide-eyed rookie who wants to be an honest, good cop like Banks. Other wonderful performances come from Samuel L. Jackson (Snakes on a Plane) as Marcus Banks, Zeke’s father, and Marisol Nichols (Riverdale) as Captain Angie Garza.
Now it’s time to talk about what you’ve all been waiting for, the gore. It’s no secret that the Saw franchise has wonderful set design and practical effects to create the vicious traps. Spiral definitely delivers on that front. The traps might be a bit more simplistic in their intended outcome, but they still have a signature flare. They also deliver on some absolutely gruesome practical effects. After decades of watching horror films, I consider myself relatively desensitized to gore, but Spiral has a couple traps that had me watching the screen through my fingers. Fans coming into the film hoping for blood and guts will not be disappointed. On top of that, Spiral incorporates a new creepy puppet to torment the victims, an updated pig mask, and a more vibrant color palette compared to the previous films.
Spiral perfectly balances elaborate gore with a topical social commentary to revitalize a familiar franchise. Considering my personal favorite Saw films are I-III, I’m delighted that Bousman returned to direct this latest installment. His previous experience on the Saw films likely helped him to find a happy medium between giving fans what they want, while also delivering something new. The same can be said of franchise veteran writers Goldfinger and Stolberg. I believe it was a compelling choice to focus on the corruption within a police department with the real-life horror stories in the news on a near-daily basis. With strong performances from the entire cast, especially Rock, and delightfully horrific practical effects, this film is sure to appeal to many horror fans. One thing is for sure, Spiral is guaranteed to get people talking and excited to see what comes next.
OVERALL RATING: 8/10