We’re not that deep into the messy and gory torture-porn crime procedural ‘Spiral: From the Book of Saw’ when a particular character does certain stuff that might seem insignificant to everyone else in the room but is an apparent “tell” to the audience we have our murderer. There’s no other justification for this character to do that one particular thing.
Not that extrapolating whodunnit always tarnishes a movie. After all, there’s only a small handful of suspects in most murder movies. And even if we’ve tapered it down to one or two hopefuls early on, we can celebrate the journey if we’re watching a well-crafted story.
Alas, the ninth installment in the “Saw” franchise doesn’t fulfill those standards. Despite the conventional depraved ideation from the psychotic mastermind pulling off a string of murders, a few darkly funny moments and a first-rate cast dominated by Chris Rock. Spiral lives down to its name. It spirals under into a bizarre, dumbed-down horror story more concerned with grossing out the audience than in contributing any compelling reason for this long-running franchise to keep chugging along, vacating a trail of blood in its path.
This is the fourth “Saw” movie for Darren Lynn Bousman. And he knows how to present those infamous scenes where some unseen, creepy-sounding monster has abducted a targeted soul and strapped them inside some insanely entangled device and expects to play a “game” in which the patient must choose between such fun outcomes as suffering serious injuries, killing somebody else or just saying the hell with it and starving a gruesome death. Within the first 10 minutes or so, “Spiral” actually specifies itself as a combination of three genres:
Spiral: Combo of 3 genres
- It’s certainly a “Saw” movie, with an opening scene that dares us to maintain our eyes on the screen as we glimpse a guy ensnared in a tool on a subway track that gives him the option between severing his tongue or enabling a train to turn him into human lasagna.
- It’s also a Chris Rock satire vehicle. In the initial stage Rock’s Detective Zeke Banks comes up on the screen, he’s delivering a happy, edgy riff on “Forrest Gump” that sounds like something straight out of a stand-up special.
- Ad it’s a cliché-riddled police movie. We can notice by the very next scene, in which confidential cop Zeke is read the riot act by his boss, Capt. Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols), who shouts at him about not being a team player and she can’t have this anymore. And the city is on the brink of boiling over during this heatwave — and the entire thing is such a noticeable homage/ripoff of the original “Beverly Hills Cop,” we half expect Rock and Nichols to turn to the camera and bow when it’s finished.
As for the plausible plot in Spiral, someone is abducting, torturing, and murdering cops. All of them copied Zeke’s precinct — and is doing so in the gnarled style of the late and not lamented Jigsaw. It has killed off a bunch of films ago but has motivated several supporters and copycats.
The killer keeps delivering file drives containing video evidence and horrific souvenirs such as broken fingers and limbs to Zeke, who has been united against his wishes with the rookie Detective William (Max Minghella), in part because nobody else willing to work with Zeke after he turned in a dirty cop 12 years earlier. Zeke’s only different true ally is his father Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson), the celebrated former chief of police.