Spiral: From the Book of Saw

Spiral: From the Book of Saw ★★★★

My friend and I rode the bus for almost an hour and a half because none of the nearby Regals were open yet. Like many others, I’m sure, this was my return to a theater after probably my longest break ever, and I know that doesn’t mean much — legitimately who cares? — but it was really something else when the AMC forewent the usual twenty minutes of trailers and my near-empty Friday afternoon auditorium was hit with the Twisted Pictures logo and swiftly plunged into Bousman’s gory cop drama. Somehow felt like an update and even an evolution of the usual Saw formula. The soap opera of the original series is abandoned for something bordering on incoherent; it’s one of the few films I would actually describe as delirious. Chris Rock is great, and he’s in no way playing a “serious” role here as the trailer might lead one to expect — he’s 100% Rock, which I’m totally here for. The tone is inconsistent and hard to pinpoint, jutting from monologues about Jenny giving Forrest Gump AIDS to trauma inflicted in layers — flashbacks over flashbacks, relentless circular torment in a closed system built on violence and oppression. Chris Rock and Samuel L. get to shoot the shit but it’s short-lived as the bursts of uncomfortable humor sidelined by grisly, pathetic displays of violence, and vice-versa — a work of desperation that hinges on the unintelligible and the bitterly sad. The undetectable stylistic throughline fits with the contradictions of a harsh condemnation of Amerikkkan police that feels in constant opposition with the film’s status as a mainstream Lionsgate production. This is the least trap-oriented entry of the series, including the first film. The traps we get look great, but they’re relatively simple and we’re far enough along in the series that we no longer wonder how someone will make it out. Strangely, there is also little emphasis on plot, either (to overall good effect, although the predictable twists are uncharacteristic as well for the series and probably work as the weakest link here). My instinct is to say this is even less of a horror film than the other entries in the series due to the lack of conventional “scares,” but fuck it — cops eating each other in a nonlinear narrative driven only by an oppressive heatwave and nonsensical scattered clues that are actually omens disguised as pigs is very much a daytime nightmare. It’s not that the film discourages empathy, but it’s the first film that stops trying to kid us and finally makes the victims truly unworthy of grace; so why does it all hurt anyway? This is a severely flawed film that nonetheless sticks in my brain as something that I can really get behind from a stylistic perspective, and that’s the only time I’ve felt this way about a film in this series. Personal preferences aside, this might be the best iteration of the series’ outlook in that it’s the most muddied and upset. I wasn't sure at first if it was my favorite or least-favorite of the series but it was the first Saw film I almost immediately wanted to revisit. More to come, probably, if I make it back out to the theater while this is still playing.

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