Seventeen years after we were first introduced to Jigsaw in Saw, Chris Rock brings the franchise back into the spotlight as a police crime thriller that disappointingly fails to live up to its full potential.
The origins of Spiral have their roots in a 2017 chance meeting between Rock and Lionsgate chairman Michael Burns. While both guests at a wedding, Rock took the opportunity to chat up Burns about branching out into the horror genre, pitching an idea about a new entry into the franchise while invigorating the brand with some of his signature comedic style. With the studio releasing Jigsaw in 2017 after a seven-year franchise hiatus, Spiral was given the green light the following year with Rock on board in the lead as Detective Zeke Banks, a police officer who remains an outcast within the precinct twelve years after he turned in a dirty cop.
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, Spiral introduces a twisted new killer who has taken some notes directly from the book of Jigsaw. A killer is targeting corrupt police officers, picking them off one by one. In true Jigsaw fashion, the killer sends audio and video clues to Zeke, egging him on to ferret out the rats in the department. With a rookie partner (Max Minghella) in tow, the legend of Zeke’s beloved dad, former police chief Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), hangs over his every step. As the spiral killer continues to enact his vigilante justice via Jigsaw-style torture traps, Zeke is in a race against time to stop the killer from torturing and killing his colleagues one-by-one.
It’s an interesting and entertaining premise, but unfortunately, Spiral seems bent on rushing through its already brisk 93-minute runtime giving many of the film’s smarter moments no time to breathe. Events unfold at such a rapid pace that there is no time for the viewer to catch up or consider the actions unfolding on screen. There are clues dropped throughout the film, but the scenes themselves are so rushed that the grisly deeds can’t build tension. All suspense is lost as entire scenes feel as if they’ve been cut out as Det. Banks jumps from point A to B without enough time to puzzle and ponder over the killer’s clues. If there is an extended director’s cut of Spiral, I’d like to see it. Hopefully it fills in some of those gaps because there is much potential for Spiral to be a good horror movie.
There is a moment where Zeke hurriedly texts his captain to check out a specific cold case file number. It’s filmed as if the viewer should know what he’s referencing. “Ah yes, cold case number 3842. That’s the clue to all of this spiral nonsense,” I suspect the reaction should be as Zeke starts putting the puzzle pieces together. But Spiral is missing far too many of those pieces to let audiences become absorbed in the mystery.
Rock, however, is one of Spiral‘s best assets. He’s entertaining and believable as the ostracized detective, struggling to get out from under his father’s shadow and his past. While it might seem like an odd casting choice and direction, Rock’s brand of comedy works surprisingly well in Spiral, giving it the right amount of laughs and, most importantly, the right tone. His pairing with Jackson as his on-screen dad is also great, but, sadly, there are far too few scenes with the two of them together to really drive home that father-son bond.
What Spiral may lack in pacing, it nearly makes up for in visuals, including a really good teaser poster that’s heavy on atmosphere. Filmed in Toronto (shout out to Lower Bay Station and grey Toronto police cars), the movie looks great. Set over the summer, it feels sticky under an oppressive July heat with sets and torture traps that are as entertainingly awful as we’ve come to expect from the series that made “reverse bear trap” a thing. The devices of punishment are just as grisly and gruesome as the traps that have come before them. Opening with one of the more ghastly deaths of the series, the rest of the traps are equally as good, albeit viewers still need a bit more time to acknowledge the horrors they unleash.
As a horror lover, I had high hopes for Spiral. I’m not mad at the result, I’m just disappointed. If and when a director’s cut is released, I’ll be the first in line to see it.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw arrives on digital on June 1.