Awakening of horror films is becoming more common in the film industry. Series like Halloween and The Grudge have experienced a variety of fortunes in their restart in recent years, while other features like the upcoming Scream restart hope to capture old magic by mixing nostalgic horror and modern themes.
Spiral, the latest entry in the Saw series, is in a similar position. The ninth Saw film, whose mission is to attract established fans and newcomers, tries to regain the stunning essence of its predecessor while moving the series forward.
However, the spiral seeks to strike a balance between preserving the identity of the Saw series and expanding its genre and eventually stumbles during its 93-minute run.
Playing a new game
Twist the stars as Chris Rock Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Banks, a police detective tasked with finding out who is responsible for the creepy murders reminiscent of the murders of John Kramer, aka the puzzle killer (Tobin Bell).
Zeke has to work alongside newcomer police officer William Schenk (Max Minghella) by Penalty Captain Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols), and is soon in the middle of a killer twisted game – apparently with ties to his father Marcus (Samuel L.Jackson).
Structurally, Spiral is a solid tribute to the Saw series. As with previous writings, there’s a new set of characters who end up being murdered in a cat-and-mouse game, plenty of creepy moments (more on these later) and a broader mystery that the film’s protagonist – in this case, Chris Rock – has to solve.
So it seems special that Spiral is not marketed as a horror film in the same way as the previous entries, and instead Lionsgate’s original Spiral is an exciting thriller.
Sure, changing the genre of a series is one way to give it a fresh start, and the audience may not care how Spiral is classified from this perspective. Still, it feels like a delusion, especially when Spiral should continue the horror-tasting story we’ve been following since 2004’s Saw.
It is a decision that seems strange given that the Spiral is anything but exciting. The plot moves so fast that there is no time to map out the events to be played out, killing any tensions that may have arisen while the film is running.
This lack of excitement also leaks into the moments of the film’s tent stick. Despite the seriousness of what happens to Rock’s protagonist in this story, or the horrific events that take place around him, Spiral doesn’t allow Zeke to get along with the main events of the story. The spiral brings Zeke through psychological torture, but it’s hard to empathize with him when he seems to shrink most of this relatively easily.
Ironically, despite Spiral’s pacing, it never seems to be that either urgency character action. Zeke competes against time to thwart the killer’s plans, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of tension here, even though there are serial killers.
No one has ever rushed to stop the killer’s murder, one driving order aside, as Zeke rumbles around town to prevent a certain incident. The number of exhibitions before and after each death also doesn’t help Spiral’s cause, and it would have helped if audiences were given the opportunity to assemble the pieces of the puzzle themselves, instead of being fed plot points.
Of course, some spectators will not watch the Spiral from its plot, but from its horrific traps and creepy deaths. For those who want really miserable moments, there are many. Saw fans get a sadistic kick out of the present inventions, especially those reserved for less pleasing characters. Because someone who isn’t usually affected by ordinary horror was certainly a time when I felt genuinely miserable, and it’s positive for Spiral that it caused this reaction from me.
If you’ve seen other Saw movies, you’ll be happy to hear that there are hints of the series ’broader history on Spiral. There aren’t many of them, but these call requests help strengthen Spiral’s plot in the Saw universe. They also help newcomers get a basic understanding of previous Saw movies, and even if a couple of references seem compelled, they provide a context for the events surrounding the puzzle killer.
Beyond gore and series setbacks, however, Spiral has little else to do. There’s a topical thematic message in the center of Spiral that leaves viewers something to think about as credits go up, and Rock does bring comic touches to the scenes in the early stages of the film – an obvious advantage in leading an experienced standup. However, these touches make room for the film’s serial killer forest, which is a shame. Its a spiral Really wanted to stand out from its predecessors, it could have helped to rely on some dark comic elements or focus more on the topics hinted at in the story.
The spiral choices are at least quite solid. Rock and Jackson do their best to liven things up, and Duo has natural chemistry in a few scenes they share together. Given how well the pair bounces apart, you might have expected them to share more show time together.
What do we think
The spiral feels like a movie from another time. The Saw series is one of the most productive horror franchises of all time, but most of its success came in the early 2000s, when audiences needed a new scary, grotesque horror series.
If Spiral had reached the pinnacle of the series ’success, I might have looked at it more favorably. In 2021, however, its premise seems outdated. Despite the creative team’s best efforts to make it feel like a fresh and obvious passion for the source material, the film’s genre change doesn’t give it enough of a kick.
The second Saw movie has already turned green, but Spiral is just the latest entry in a series that has surpassed it at the moment. There may be enough nostalgia for the Saw line that the new entry could generate a little more goodwill than Spiral dominates; however, four years after the release of the last film in the series is not the time for that.
Spiral will arrive in theaters in the U.S. on May 14 and in the UK on May 21.