I still remember when the first Saw film came out. Being a film student from Melbourne myself, it proved to all of us that our dreams could come true. If two Melbourne filmmakers can make a horror film on a shoe-string budget and see it become a global success, we all can.
The horror fan inside me loved it due to the fact that while the world was embracing slasher films aimed at teenagers, this was genuine hardcore horror, yet somehow it still went mainstream.
But something went wrong as the Saw franchise continued. The first few were pretty good, and then when James Wan and Leigh Whannell left to work on other projects, everything went to pieces. The films became predictable to the point of being boring or were so unbelievable that I never really got into them at all. I probably realised just how far the films had gone from their creator’s original dream when I heard Leigh Whannell host a Q&A and he told us that he didn’t even know the last Saw was coming out until he saw billboards for it in LA.
Therefore, I was somewhat sceptical going into Spiral. I mean, the trailer looked edgy, I’d give them that. But there was also the fact that there were now more bad Saw films than good Saw films, and this one was starring Chris Rock, someone who seemed completely out of place for the franchise. I guess the best way to say it is that I was fifty-fifty about predicting how this one would turn out.
Here, Rock plays Detective Zeke Banks, a bullied detective in a post-Jigsaw world. Zeke is the son of tough and determined former Police Chief, Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), but even that can’t stop him from being condemned by his precinct after he reports a dirty cop.
Tired of Zeke going out on his own, Capt. Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols), decides to partner Zeke up with rookie detective, William Schenk (Max Minghella). However, her plan to send them out on mundane cases backfires when they are first on the scene to a murder that is the start of a Jigsaw copycat killer’s killing spree aimed at police officers.
It is obvious from the style of Spiral that Chris Rock and director Darren Lynn Bousman wanted to set this film apart from all other Saw movies. Given the recent instalments, I can’t say that he wasn’t right to do so. Bousman has previous experience in the franchise having directed Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV but this film is nothing like that – especially style wise. This time around, the film focuses more on the police procedure around the case and Bousman uses quick editing and a washed-out heatwave vibe that makes it feel closer to a film like Se7en than from the world of Saw. Bousman also makes the film feel like it is shot in the 70s, even though it references to things like Fitbits firmly place in modern day times. There is an obvious fascination there with Bousman and 70s cop dramas, which thoroughly comes through in Spiral, providing everything from props like old-fashioned fans, right through to the classic car that Zeke drives.
The feel of Spiral works well and in a way that gives credibility to a franchise, which at times has let us down. For the most part, the films works, the familiar tropes are there, the ‘kill’ scenes as usual are creative, and while many have wondered how Chris Rock would go playing a dramatic role, for the most part, his performance works. What doesn’t work for Spiral though, unfortunately, is its ending.
Of course, Spiral is a must see for all fans of the Saw franchise. The film is also a good entry for those who have never watched any of the Saw films before. The inclusion of Rock and Minghella to the series breathes new life to it, with the amazing tone and mood of Spiral setting it apart from the rest of the franchise. If you are a massive horror fan though, and not necessarily the film series, just be prepared for an ending that may slightly disappoint, while at the same time, leave you wanting to see where the next instalment in the franchise goes.