Chris Rock Spiral From the Book of Saw

Chris Rock is great in half-assed horror film Spiral: From the Book of Saw

This franchise reboot is essentially a cop corruption movie interspersed with torture scenes.

Let me say this before anything else: I do not envy the makers of Spiral: From the Book of Saw. They have been tasked with breathing new life into the franchise that has perhaps squeezed its premise drier than any other franchise. There are so many Saw movies of middling quality that, even if I haven’t seen all of them, I can safely say that there probably isn’t much that hasn’t already been covered by all of the previous films in the series. No matter what you want to call Spiral: From the Book of Saw — a soft reboot, a sequel, a spin-off, a remake — it’s a movie that almost guarantees choppy waters. What they’ve ultimately decided to make is more of a serial-killer cop thriller (more Se7en than Zodiac), an interesting idea in theory that’s more or less just a middling David Ayer film in practice.

Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) is a hotshot homicide detective who has always existed in the shadow of his retired father, Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson), a decorated and beloved cop. Zeke is much less beloved on the force due to his involvement in a corruption scandal a decade prior. As the one morally upstanding cop on the force, he’s not exactly popular with the people he ratted out and those who were splashed by his actions. Recently saddled with a new partner (Max Minghella), Zeke investigates what is originally thought of as a suicide in the subway. As it turns out, the remains splattered halfway across the subway tunnel are not those of a random bum but of a police officer who also happens to be a close friend of Zeke’s. As Zeke investigates the murder (which bears a striking resemblance to the work of serial killer Jigsaw, hint hint), police officers start dropping like flies around him.

The connections between Spiral and the Saw franchise are tenuous at best. Spiral exists in the same universe but makes it rather clear early on that it’s not necessarily meant to be a continuation, which allows for a certain flexibility to move away from the rather dense backstory that has developed over innumerable Saw movies in the last 15 years or so. Spiral has the right idea by shifting genres to some degree, moving into a potentially rich world of police corruption and department politics being completely decimated by a serial killer. One imagines that the ACAB-adjacent subtext comes from Rock’s contributions to the screenplay, but unfortunately these rapidly get lost in a paint-by-numbers procedural that marries the two genres rather disgracefully. What it most reminded of, regrettably, is David Ayer’s Sabotage, the ultra-violent riff on And Then There Were None — a half-hearted exploration of transplanted genre tropes that never really escapes its poky, basic-cable procedural roots. 

What we’re left with is an anemic cop movie interrupted once in a while by (admittedly pretty fucking effective and gross) torture scenes, one in which Chris Rock is inexplicably yelling stand-up routines about Forrest Gump at the top of his lungs. (Spiral is not a comedy and Rock at least attempts a credible dramatic performance, but it seems impossible not to have Rock rant at least once in any situation.) Don’t get me wrong: though Rock’s casting smacks of misguided stunt casting, it’s undeniable that he’s more interesting than some guy from Blue Bloods or whoever might’ve been cast in this had they continued to follow the Saw model. I really do wish that the material was stronger, because Rock is certainly going for it here, but there’s a scattershot, stapled-together quality to Spiral that ultimately proves to be its undoing.

It’s not really that Spiral is a terrible experience. I imagine die-hard horror fans who aren’t too picky about movies that mine the familiar are at least going to get something out of the makeup and effects, and Saw fans in particular are going to appreciate that there’s a base level of care applied to the thing. As a standalone movie, however, Spiral feels awfully uninvolved in its own proceedings — something that’s inevitably the product of the well having already run dry. It’s a valiant attempt on paper, but perhaps the whole Saw thing should be left alone. ■

Spiral: From the Book of Saw opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, May 14. Watch the trailer here:

Spiral: From the Book of Saw starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson and Max Minghella, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

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