A sadistic killer is hunting down cops in Spiral, a bloody suspenser starring Chris Rock as vexed Detective Zeke Banks, a man racing against the clock to stop the slew of slayings.
While the 70s served Satan when it came to the horror genre, the 80s were all about the strong, silent slasher. The 90s were heavy with supernatural foes, and the aughts ushered in the controversial “torture porn” genre. The first Saw (2004) reveled in the suffering of its victims, but it added another element: highly stylized violence juxtaposed with the classic, gritty police procedural. A slew of sequels followed, the best of them helmed by Darren Lynn Bousman, the young “splat pack” upstart who brought the franchise to box office highs time and time again. Then he went off to do other films, much to the detriment of the series. Thank goodness he’s back because, without his stylistic flourishes, Spiral wouldn’t be as good as it is.
Although Spiral is the ninth Saw movie, it offers a fresh start for newbies while giving the nod to the diehard fans. We are without horror-hero Tobin Bell as the brilliant and demented “Jigsaw,” but we get a cunning copycat killer whose identity remains unknown up until the very end. The unnerving doll Billy is also gone; in his place is an unnamed but just-as-sinister pig puppet. There are some familiar trappings, including the traps and the creepy clues delivered in twisted ways. Savvy viewers will appreciate Bousman’s signature style, which features a barrage of dazzling visuals set against masters of gritty, dark backdrops intercut with extreme closeups of the victims’ expressions of abject fear as they witness their impending doom.
Banks is not the only cop on the case; Saw likes its ensembles, and Spiral is no exception. Newly-minted Detective Schneck (Max Minghella) does his best to keep up with Banks, while their blustery captain, Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols), barks orders and ratchets up the pressure. Banks’ dad, Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson), an esteemed but retired detective, takes a keen interest in the case after finding out that several of his colleagues have been dispatched in various gruesome methods at the hands of the mysterious Jigsaw wannabe.
While I enjoyed the film, I didn’t love Rock’s acting in it. He delivers a few humorous lines well, but it’s uncomfortable for us all when he’s out of his comfort zone. Jackson is a screamer extraordinaire, and when he does it, it fits—but when Rock gets histrionic, it overshoots the mark and goes way over the top. Minghella’s performance is effective, but my favorite actor in the cast is Richard Zeppieri, who shines as one of the detectives who is something of a wild card when it comes to the guessing game of who-done-it.
Since Saw is all about the traps, I can assure you: you will not be disappointed. There are tongue twisters, finger snappers, skin slaughters, glass gougers, blood extractors, spine slashers, and more. The traps are practical, lending a vibe of authenticity not seen in the last couple of Saw movies, and the horror effects are truly cringe-inducing thanks to the talented team at Mindwarp FX. What’s more, DP Jordan Oram (best-known for music videos) sticks to the feel of the franchise while implementing his own vibe. Composer Charlie Clouser, who’s worked on all the previous Saw films, scores another winner with his robust and spine-tingling notes.
Spiral is a solid thriller that stands alone, but it also offers a rich experience for horror nerds who have loved the Saw films and look forward to more of the same.