James Jay Edwards reviews Spiral: From the Book of Saw, the ninth horror film in the Saw series, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and starring Chris Rock. (Lionsgate)
Sometimes, actors known for comedy venture to the darker side of film. Robin Williams creeped out his fans in One Hour Photo. Adam Sandler impressed cinephiles in Uncut Gems. And two modern comic legends, Kevin James and Joel McHale, teamed up in last year’s revenge thriller Becky. Now, Chris Rock has hopped up to the table with Spiral: From the Book of Saw.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw stars Rock as an embattled detective named Zeke Banks who finds himself investigating a string of murders. As the bodies (and parts thereof) pile up, Zeke notices similarities between these cases and those of the infamous serial killer Jigsaw. Only, Jigsaw has been dead for over ten years. With the help of his new rookie partner (Max Minghella from The Handmaid’s Tale) and his retired police chief father (Pulp Fiction’s Samuel L. Jackson), Zeke must stop the new killer before he strikes again.
(Spiral: From the Book of Saw, theatrical release poster, courtesy Lionsgate)
Chris Rock has always been a “massive fan” of the Saw movies [his words], so when he found himself with an opportunity to pitch a story angle to series producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules, he jumped at it. His take is a fresh direction for the franchise, a standalone movie that still feels like a solid part of the whole. While some knowledge of the madness and the methods of the other films may be helpful, Spiral: From the Book of Saw is its own entity and not a true “continuation” of the Saw story.
It’s still a Saw movie, though. The screenplay was written (from Rock’s original story idea) by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, the duo who wrote the last Saw comeback, 2017’s Jigsaw. Director Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed Saw II through IV, is also back. Spiral: From the Book of Saw focuses more on the investigators than the victims, which gives it an almost Se7en-esque vibe. So, it’s got a crime drama feel as opposed to the typical Saw torture porn/angry mystery tone, which is a breath of fresh air for a franchise whose entries, frankly, all ran together after the first couple of movies.
(Spiral: From the Book of Saw, Photos by Brooke Palmer, courtesy Lionsgate)
Of course, the traps are still there, and they’re as brutally inventive as ever. The filmmakers realize that no one is coming to a Saw movie for the story, and they craft their ingenious kill scenes accordingly. The two ingredients of Saw traps—the torturous choice and the ticking clock—are both there in every instance, and the way Bousman presents his trap scenes is nail-biting and cringeworthy—the kind of scenes that have audiences watching through their fingers. Like all Saw movies, Spiral: From the Book of Saw is not for the squeamish.
As long as one doesn’t mind the gore, Spiral: From the Book of Saw is a very easy watch. It’s nicely paced, never drags, and is plenty captivating. And, unlike some of its predecessors, it does not overstay its welcome. It actually leaves the viewer pining for a little bit more. Which is fine, because nine Saw movies is a weird place to stop. You can bet that they’ll at least go on and make a tenth. And Spiral: From the Book of Saw leaves that option open, either as a continuation of the story, or by opening up the doors to more standalone Saw universe movies.
Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.