Review: 'Spiral' (2021) Dir. Darren Lynn Bousman
The ninth instalment in the 'Saw' gore-porn series darkens the atmosphere with a new cast and new themes in an attempt to rejuvenate the franchise with this semi-reboot...
Detective Ezekiel "Zeke" Banks (Rock) and his new partner William Schenk (Minghella) are tasked on the most dangerous investigation of their careers, working alongside former veteran detective Marcus Banks (Jackson), Zeke's father.
When one of their own is brutally murdered in what appears to be a copycat of the notorious Jigsaw serial killer, it falls to Zeke to investigate and build a case, despite others not in favour of him leading the team.
Zeke struggles to work with William initially, opting to cover his own back and take his own risks. Yet it seems there are greater dangers within the force for Zeke, William and Marcus to contend with than just the deadly game being played...
This ninth instalment in the Saw franchise semi-reboots itself for a more gripping entry, akin to the first films of the mystery/murder genre. We aren't just thrown into the torture/porn we associate so much with the franchise, but instead take the time to understand our core characters including. Well, that's not all true. It takes just 5 minutes for our first blood soaked, toe-curling game to be played by what seems to be a new incarnation of the serial killer taking justice into their own perverse hands.
Chris Rock is our new lead for this story as Detective Ezekiel Banks partnered up to help keep him on the straight and narrow; used to acting on his own accord finding it hard to trust anyone else on the force. Max Minghella is said partner, learning the ropes as he goes and adding to the buddy-cop formula this tries to deliver. We have the hard-edged tones of a crime thriller with questions posed from the opening; what plagues Zeke as a cop who has so many internal enemies, and what is the broken relationship with his father have to do with things? It's not a host of important questions, but they are at least something to chew over rather than just throwing random characters into random situations again.
Rock has a more mature take on the his expected comedy; nothing silly here, just a seasoned lawman doing what he does best and saying what he feels. He's got amusing attitude, but also delivers in terms of emotion and guile against the odds. With Minghella his "understudy" and the more rookie of the two, their relationship is a little undercooked, but still entertaining as is the whole of his fellow brothers and sisters in law.
'Spiral' goes back to the original crime / thriller genres of the franchise to try and inject more of a plot and some depth to proceedings and it works for the most part.
Samuel L. Jackson never fails to disappoint, lending his trademark style of wit, attitude and seasoned expertise to the role of former police chief and Zeke's father. Banks doesn't take nonsense from anyone, and his hard method of both being a father and policeman has left it's mark on many. The role is a small one, but Jackson gives it his all, unlike other major stars phoning in small roles for big pay.
Following the heavy brunt of sequels of "torture-porn" in the later franchise which became the biggest association of the series and still hooked many fans with the brutality of it all, 'Spiral' hits the brakes on all that. Time it spent with our cops working through the case and tracking leads with real investigation work. This also builds on some of the distrust and shady people populating the police force that is a motivation for our Jigsaw killer to do what he does best, and also motivation for Zeke to do an honest job.
But let's get to what we are here for; the torture porn! A little more softer than the hardcore material we are used to, and used far less than probably expected. Is this a bad thing? Not really. It removes the by-the-book narrative used previously, and maintains the cat-and-mouse hunt of good guys v bad (even if lines are blurred). For this alone, it's a nice change of pace. There are only two moments practical dismemberments, cracking bones, oozing blood and skinning. This may not satisfy those out for gore, but it may satisfy those wanting more plot over pain.
As the plot ticks on, you may see the twists coming as obvious as a giant spiral itself, but it doesn't detract from the overall story. The framing is tight, the score by Charlie Clouser is tense and underlying with chills, and there is real slick look overall with the use of colours to bring atmosphere to our secluded locations, be them underground tunnels, police stations or sun-baked city streets.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman has done a commendable job in stoking some new life into the franchise. While the trademarks of the series are all there to slot into what makes the films entertaining, there is enough new material to tease a potential couple more entries of this format.
A return to basics for a 17 year old franchise that may now be too set in its ways. Still, it's entertaining as a detective thriller with a solid cast and comfortable narrative.
'Spiral' is a Twisted Pictures production