Max Minghella

Spiral: From the Book of Saw

21/05/21

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.

2 stars

Philip Caveney

The 9th Life of Louis Drax

 

drax.jpg

03/08/16

Helmed by horror maestro Alexandre Aja (but far more restrained than we’ve come to expect from him), this strange, complex and intriguing movie is essentially the story of a boy in a coma.

Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth) is accident-prone and has suffered a series of disasters throughout his short life. The most recent one, a plunge from a cliff top whilst on a picnic with his parents, is the most serious yet. Though by all rights the fall should have killed him, he’s somehow clinging on to life – and having some very disturbing dreams while he’s at it. Coma specialist Dr Allen Pascal (Jamie Dornan) is called in to provide help, though his attentions seem to be more focused on Louis’s mother, Natalie (Sarah Gadon), who soon has the good doctor catering to her every whim. But how did Louis come to fall from that cliff? Could it be that he was actually pushed by his father, Peter (Aaron Paul), who has now gone missing?

At first, this plays like a straightforward psychological mystery, but Max Minghella’s screenplay, based on Liz Jensen’s novel, is intent on drawing in all manner of genre elements, so much so that the film sometimes seems to be bursting at the seams trying to contain them. Not everything here works (there’s an uneasy undertone of misogyny at times, and the portrayal of mental illness is problematic too), but it still fields more original ideas than your average Hollywood movie and the parts that do work are very good indeed. I particularly liked the fact that Longworth’s titular hero is about a million miles away from your usual adorable uber-poppet. He’s actually a bit of a twat, sneering and posturing and treating every adult he encounters with utter contempt – yet we’re still rooting for him, hoping he awakes to enjoy a longer life.

The 9th Life of Louis Drax will keep you hooked and guessing right up to the very end, and there’s also the bonus of some absolutely ravishing cinematography along the way. But I think it’s safe to say that this won’t be everybody’s cup of haemoglobin.

4 stars

Philip Caveney