Spiral: From the Book of Saw Review: A bland copycat
The newest entry in the Saw series, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, is unable to fully subvert itself from the series’ trappings and takes one too many pages from its book.
Everything leading up to Spiral has been chock full of potential freshness for the franchise that once popped out yearly Halloween sequels like nothing. The story of Chris Rock drafting up a new story treatment because he was such a fan of the series gave new hope that a new vision for the franchise was in store. The mysterious working title the film took for a while, The Organ Donor, was a little strange, yet oddly right at home with the series. Then came the amazing slew of trailers that gave off thrilling vibes of Se7en and featured a hot new theme of the same name by 21 Savage that further heightened the potential for it to bring the series into new territory.
Spiral does head into some new territory, but not without using storytelling tactics the franchise hasn’t utilized for over a decade. Once the series started pumping out sequels, they stopped focusing on touching on stories and themes and put much more effort into overly elaborate storytelling that paled in comparison to the equally convoluted traps that gore hounds absolutely gushed over. With Spiral the series heads back into its more character-driven roots as it delves into a new spin-off story with a new killer.
The new story of a detective trying to unmask a Jigsaw copycat isn’t exactly unfamiliar in this franchise, but the targets of this copycat’s traps does make it a little more unique. Cops and feds have found themselves in plenty of Jigsaw and his disciple’s traps, but here they are the central focus as the film’s central protagonist Detective Banks (Rock) and his rookie partner Schenk (Max Minghella) attempt to stop a Jigsaw copycat that’s targeting cops. The film’s focus on cops brings out some interesting themes of corruption from within and issues within the mentality of loyalty in policing.
With Banks having called out the actions of his corrupt former partner after he kills a witness, he’s now seen as a rat by his fellow officers and is generally untrusted. There’re certain moments of seeing the effects of Banks being berated, gawked at, and generally messed with by other officers that makes his character more unique for the franchise and more interesting in general. He’s a little bitter about life, has doubts about the profession and system as a whole, and even goes against the norms and jurisdictions because he doesn’t trust those around him. For some, this makes him an easy person to look at as the copycat after officers start getting thrown into traps. Narratively there’s a lot of great potential for a more character-driven, simplistic Saw film with interesting looks into police work.
There’s also a slightly more comical tone to this film that takes the series a little out of its dark and gritty roots and works well with the moments of Banks and Schenk working a little outside the law. It’s no surprise that something with Rock starring in it has a little comedic flair to it, but there’s a noticeably looser feel to the whole that works for some stuff but falls flat in other ways. The film can end up relying a little too much on humor and it’s hard not to miss that grimy and underground feel of a Saw flick. However, even for its attempts to utilize greater, forgotten storytelling tactics to tread new ground, Spiral ultimately falls back on familiar trappings that just don’t have the same shock and awe that they used to.
When the pieces finally come together and the copycat comes out, instead of this shocking moment of realization there was this feeling of overwhelming disappointment that came. At first, I wasn’t sure why since the big reveal had all the elements of a grand Saw reveal. All the little details that poured throughout the film lined up fine and relatively made sense given the reveal. Even the idea of how the copycat views Banks and has separate plans for him was really interesting and pretty unique for the franchise. After some thought it came to me that my disappointment didn’t necessarily stem from who the copycat ends up being but rather the execution of the characters, reveals, and traps.
As said before, Spiral focuses more on story than traps but it feels like it forgets traps entirely because the ones shown here are by far the weakest in the franchise. There’s nothing memorably gory about them, the connection to the victims feels forced, and they’re just over-complicated for the sake of being over-complicated. The returning visual effects, quick cuts, and reveal tactics feel flat here and just come off like business as usual. They don’t leave the same impact because we’ve seen it so many times throughout this franchise and especially because the character and relationship building are so weak.
Spiral really doesn’t follow through on its story potential as the characters are very flat and the relationships between them aren’t fleshed out to the extent they need to. The people in the traps might as well be total nobodies because their characters are so bland and it’s a shame that Banks’ mistrust in the system isn’t delved into or played with enough. There are cool aspects to this copycat’s use of the puppet and creating mistrust within the police, but it just doesn’t go anywhere new or special.
The film also misses the opportunity to bring the series back to its psychological roots by slowly driving Banks insane and making him feel helpless over time. There are a few scenes of him freaking out about things, but they are just randomly thrown in. It could’ve been so great to see that slow growing obsession and frustration we’ve seen in past franchise characters like David Tapp and Strauss be more fleshed out with Banks. It could’ve been a better way to call back to the franchise’s past than the film does here and been a more compelling horror route for the film to take.
Spiral really doesn’t know what it wants to be as it sometimes is able to tread new ground, but more often than not shows itself to be a bland copycat. It’s a big disappointment that fails to be the fresh start for the Saw franchise that it showed so much potential to be.
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