The 400-Word Review - Spiral: From the Book of Saw
By Sean Collier
May 13, 2021

Spiral: From the Book of Saw

A hearty stew of “Law and Order”-style procedurals, a couple big stars and a cumbersome title make “Spiral” distinct from its parent franchise — though not in any way that will feel unfamiliar.

Sure, Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson are here, and long-dead (but surprisingly influential) series baddie Jigsaw is not. Still: No matter how many words are shoehorned into the title, this is “Saw 9.” It’s not “From the Book of Saw,” whatever that means (As far as I can recall, this franchise has never once included a book). It’s another “Saw,” for both better and worse.

Rock plays Zeke Banks, a second-generation detective evidently working in the poetic-torture-devices division. A copycat killer starts emulating Jigsaw’s brand of life-or-death challenges, this time aiming the maniacal-engineering contraptions at crooked cops. The first victim, separated from his lying tongue (and, subsequently, most of his limbs) for delivering false testimony, is a friend of Banks, leading the surly detective to demand the chance to catch the killer.

Other “Saw” films have had procedural elements, but “Spiral” dives fully into the genre — leading to every cop-show cliche you can name, from internal power struggles to “You’re too close to this one!” shouting matches. These moments are weaker than those in the franchise’s gory wheelhouse, though Rock proves suited to the grizzled-veteran role.

Fortunately, a hackneyed script can’t ruin what is ultimately good, gross horror fun. There’s a bit of a whodunit afoot as more of Banks’ past is revealed — and as his father (Jackson) turns up missing. The mystery and the murders, combined with the two most bankable stars the franchise has featured, are enough to elevate the ninth installment over most of the forgettable entries.

If you’re wondering if there’s any commentary about policing here: Yes, eventually. It’s hard to tell if the message is muddy because it’s undercooked, or if it’s ambiguous because the series has always existed in a post-“Se7en” world with no good guys on any side. “Saw” has aimed its brutality at timely targets before — in the pre-Obamacare world, there was an installment about the health-insurance industry — but whether this kind of commentary on a vital issue is fitting or in poor taste will be up to the viewer. Either way, it’s a movie that asks you to think just the right amount — enough to care, not enough to question.

My Rating: 6/10

“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” is playing in theaters. If you haven’t yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, please consider visiting an outdoor cinema.