Reinvigorating a beloved franchise while pushing it in a new direction is not an easy feat, especially when it’s one of the biggest horror franchises in existence. This leads us to SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW, a standalone film within the SAW universe, featuring returning director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV), with a script written by Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger. SPIRAL is far from perfect but it’s the most exciting SAW-inspired film since, for this critic, SAW II.

A criminal mastermind unleashes a twisted form of justice in SPIRAL, the terrifying new chapter from the book of Saw. Working in the shadow of his father, an esteemed police veteran (Samuel L. Jackson), brash Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock) and his rookie partner (Max Minghella) take charge of a grisly investigation into murders that are eerily reminiscent of the city’s gruesome past. Unwittingly entrapped in a deepening mystery, Zeke finds himself at the center of the killer’s morbid game.

From the moment the film begins, the viewer is thrown into an unfolding situation at a carnival when a woman’s purse is stolen. An unnamed officer walking about end up catches the thief in action and chases after him. As the suspect leads him into a train tunnel, it becomes quite apparent that whatever is about to go down is not going to be good. It’s at this point that the familiar game heralded by Jigsaw has begun, again.

What makes SPIRAL exciting is the inclusion of a storyline that’s fresh, topical, and engaging; one that could be ripped out of today’s headlines. Zeke Banks, played by Rock, is a detective living in the shadow of his father and former police officer, Marcus Banks, played by Jackson. After witnessing the actions of a dirty cop, Zeke tries to do right by turning him in, resulting in Zeke being iced out by the rest of the police force, even when the department finds themselves in the cross-hairs of a copy-cat Jigsaw killer. Writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger do a great job of creating a new origin story while also giving commentary on the subject of police brutality, without it being too heavy handed. That said, one of the slight downsides of this movie is that the storyline is relatively predictable. However, though I was able to figure out what was going to unfold, it didn’t deter me from enjoying the overall experience. Additionally, the film does feature some homages to past movies in the franchise but, for the most part, stays on its own course.

Chris Rock (left) as ‘Detective Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Banks’ and Max Minghella (right) as ‘Detective William’ in SPIRAL | Photo Credit: Brooke Palmer

For most, the biggest surprise when SPIRAL was announced was Chris Rock’s involvement not only as Executive Producer but also in the lead role. When I first heard that Rock was attached to the film, I scratched my head in disbelief. As far as my memory served me, I had never seen Rock in a horror film before. That said, he did not come to play (no pun intended) and served audiences one hell of a performance. Mixing his deadpan humor with outlandish one-liners on top of, at times, an exaggerated performance, it was a much needed change from what we were used in the previous franchise. However, the film really shines when Rock and Jackson team up. Their performances with one another came naturally making it easy to believe their character’s relationship. If I had to give one critique here, it would be that I wish the film focused a bit more on their interactions because the two of them are just so god damn good with one another.

Obviously, we can’t talk about a SAW movie, even if it’s an offshoot, without talking about the traps, and SPIRAL brings a-plenty of traps designed for ultimate carnage and pain. There’s everything from appendages being ripped off, a body exploding, and more. Everyone is sure to find a trap that is their favorite, which is one of the main reasons these movies are so much fun. Personally, I was a big fan of the train scene at the beginning of the film though my partner, who watched the film with me, was left feeling a bit queasy. Honestly, every trap has a special quality to it as well as a specific reason those traps are tied in with the victims. My only critique with these traps is that I wish the final one had more pizazz. It’s not that it’s any less brutal than the other ones. I just personally wanted more from it.

Bringing his signature visual style, Darren Lynn Bousman creates a world that quickly pulls you in . Whether it’s the heat wave coursing through the city that heightens the tension and distrust between the police officers, or pointing the camera at the traps when the moment of death has arrived, never once panning away from the torture, Bousman knows how to effectively grab onto the viewer’s attention. One of my favorite scenes in the entire movie has Rock staring directly into the camera, numb from shock, after viewing a brutal murder scene. In the background, officers run past him as the red alarm goes off bouncing off the sickly green colored walls. It’s at this point one wonders, “Is this it? Is this where Zeke snaps?” It’s such a subtle yet powerful moment that evokes a sense of unhinged madness and proves that when given free reign to bring his vision to life, Bousman always crushes it and, with SPIRAL, it’s no different.

Overall, SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW is a bloody, violent blast that’s oddly satisfying and dares viewers to once again play the game that Jigsaw made so famous. My only word of advice is that audience members should set their expectations going in and to remember that this is not a direct sequel to SAW, as it separates itself from the lore of John Kramer/Jigsaw but still keeps it within the same world. SPIRAL has rejuvenated a slowly dying franchise, giving fans the opportunity to experience this first chapter of the Book of Saw in a new setting, with new characters, new traps, and a new origin story, that will make fans excited for the future of this new franchise.

SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW arrives in theaters this Friday, May 14, 2021.

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