The Saw franchise always seems to me like a missed opportunity. The first movie, way back in 2004, was a decent low-budget thriller, tightly directed with a clever climactic twist. But its success gave creators James Wan and Lee Whannel carte blanche to go bigger and nastier. Which they promptly did. The result was a long stream of torture-porn specials, where people the viewer didn’t really care about were messily dismembered in a series of Heath Robinson torture contraptions. In the ‘final’ episode, Jigsaw (the eighth film in the series), the ingenious serial killer was caught and put to rest.
So the news that comedian Chris Rock (a self-avowed Saw fan) had plans to ‘reinvent’ the series seemed to offer at least the possibility of something fresh. In Spiral, he plays detective Zeke Banks, who becomes the ultimate victim of a ‘Jigsaw copycat’ killer. See what they did there? The main difference is that the new murderer is killing only corrupt police officers, which Banks’ department seems to be overrun with. Indeed, it feels at times, that he is possibly the only good guy on the entire force. We quickly learn that he once turned in a fellow officer for breaking the rules and, as a consequence of this, he is disliked by his colleagues.
It probably doesn’t help matters that I find myself in full agreement with them. As played by Rock, Banks has all the inherent charm of a dead mouse in a loaf of bread. Those, who like me, were hoping for a sprinkling of witty repartee to leven the usual visceral mix will be sorely disappointed. Rock’s dialogue – if I’m allowed to call it that – is composed mostly of F bombs, directed at anybody who disagrees with him – and trust me, that’s a lot of F bombs. Even his new partner, doe-eyed Detective William Shenk (Max Minghella), comes in for scorn, mainly because he’s a married man with a new baby to think about.
Banks’ dad, Marcus (Samuel L Jackson, who looks like he’s wondering how he ever got himself into this debacle), is also a highly regarded police officer, retired now, but still taking every opportunity to stick his nose into the latest cases, because… well, every retired guy needs a hobby, right? The question is, who is the mysterious killer? If it takes you longer than twenty minutes to work it out, then you really haven’t been concentrating…
From the opening scene onwards, it’s clear that writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger aren’t the tiniest bit interested in breaking any new ground – but breaking limbs, now, that’s a different matter. There’s the usual prurient torture scenes with the camera lingering a little too gloatingly on severed tongues and shattered faces. There’s a labyrinthine series of (frankly ludicrous) flashbacks and, finally, we’re offered a ‘reveal’ which is going to surprise precisely nobody. Ominously, the ending is left hanging, presumably in the hope that Spiral will initiate yet another series of diminishing returns, but I for one certainly won’t be back for more. Once bitten and all that.
This is dismal filmmaking that consistently fails to break new ground. Why not leave it here and look for some new ideas? Just a thought.