ONE cannot just give up a successful film franchise like “Saw” that easily. The first “Saw” was shown in 2004, written by Leigh Whammel and directed by James Wan, both Australians. It was a blockbuster and became some sort of a cult, so sequels followed yearly: “Saw II” in 2005, “III” in 2006, “IV” in 2007, “V” 2008, “VI’’ in 2008, “Saw 3D” in 2010.
They rested a bit then a new one came in 2017, “Jigsaw”, with new director and writers. Now, 11 years later, we have “Spiral: from the Book of Saw”, a reinvention of the series that goes to a new direction to show that the torture porn/ slasher series continues.
The movie opens on a hot July 4th Independence Day celebration. Someone’s bag is snatched and a cop, Detective Bostwick (Dan Pertonijevic), chases the robber down an underground tunnel when he’s suddenly attacked. He regains consciousness with him already suspended above the railroad tracks with his tongue sticking out and the only organ holding up his body.
Just like the past “Saw” killer, James Kramer (played by Tobin Bell), who has died in a past movie, the new copycat of Saw tells the victim that he can still save himself. He can do this by just letting his tongue to be cut off by the contraption holding it, so he can then avoid being crushed by the oncoming next train. But the cop fails to save himself and he dies so violently.
Assigned to investigate the case is Det. Zeke Banks (Chris Rock who was a hit in “Rush Hour” franchise with Jackie Chan.) His dad himself Marcus, is a retired cop (Samuel L. Jackson.) He quickly deduces that the train tunnel murder is similar to those done by the Jigsaw Killer.
Banks is given a new partner, rookie William Schenk (Max Minghella, son of Oscar winning director Anthony MInghella of “The English Patient.) The new killer says he is targetting wayward cops only to make them pay for their corrupt deeds.
His next victim is Fitch (Richard Zepierri), another rogue cop, whose fingers are put inside a trap. If he wants to save his fingers, he must cut them all off to avoid electrocution. Again, the victim fails to save himself and dies.
The next victim is female cop, Capt. Garza (Marisol Nichols), who is abducted then placed inside their precinct’s cold storage. She, too, cannot save herself from boiling hot wax and dies.
Some cops start to think Banks maybe the culprit as he has an unsettled score with Fitch. Marcus, Banks’ dad, decides to look for the killer himself, but he is also captured and wakes up chained in a warehouse with his former partner, Pete Dunleavy (Patrick Macmanus), all tied up in front him and about to be killed by a machine that spews sharp cut glass directly at him.
Banks arrives to try rescuing him and his own dad. The new copycat killer then comes out to reveal his true identity to him. Of course, Banks is shocked to the bones as it’s so unexpected. The killer then tries to persuade Banks, a certified good cop working in a police department with nothing but crooks, to be his ally so that together, they can join forces in cleaning up the police force and get rid of all the bad cops.
Of course, we cannot reveal anything else beyond this point, as it would be surely a big spoiler. Just like the previous “Saw” flicks, this one also depends mostly on the build up of tension with the help of blood-curdling violent scenes that are surely not for the squeamish. “Saw” fans have already learned to anticipate (and salivate on) the visceral scenes of bloodbaths the series has to offer. They know it’s more important than the actual storytelling.
The series is given a new dressing with the casting of top black actors Rock (usually over-the-top loud but gives a fairly modulated performance here) and Jackson (in full bad ass mode) in the leads. The past movies didn’t have A-listers in the cast but mostly unknowns.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman (who has helmed three “Saw” films before) knows how to expertly mine the usual tropes of the past “Saw” flicks. He knows its captive audience would expect to see them again.
But Director Bousman adds up his own sadistic touches of copious gore and inflicting pain in its intricately constructed and chilling torture sequences requiring gory self mutilation. Other viewers will find them unsettling and distressing but “Saw” diehard fans who already expect them certainly won’t be disappointed.
Obviously, the director is hoping this will be the start of a new franchise for a new generation of Saw fanatics as “Spiral” ends with the brutal killer getting away with murder. The last scene shows him being able to escape. It’s just too bad that the film is released during the pandemic, so it’s not as big a moneymaker as the past “Saw” films. Let’s see if it would pick up on video for rent or on streaming to be a bonafide hit.