Spiral: From the Book of Saw

Spiral: From the Book of Saw ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Since I've still only seen the previous eight Saw movies once each, I sincerely appreciate how these last couple add-ons have mercifully ditched the baffling continuity of the original run. Now 11 years removed from Saw 3D, I can respect those who have made it their life's mission to map out all the sequels' intricate backtracking, but I never loved them enough to try that myself. I'm just here for the traps, man, and if you can give me enough of those in a completely self-sufficient narrative like this, I'll gladly take 'em.

As Jigsaw introduced the possibility of actual years-later Jigsaw copycats, this effort from the same screenwriters and director Darren Lynn Bousman (returning after II through IV, probably the series' peak) doesn't even try to make you think John Kramer is behind the new batch of self-torture booby traps picking off cops at a particular precinct. Chris Rock chews into the franchise's swear-happy grit with gusto as a hilariously bitter lone wolf forced to work with a rookie (The Handmaid's Tale's Max Minghella) as he investigates the gruesome deaths of his shady colleagues and withers under the domineering shadow of his retired police captain papa (Samuel L. Jackson). To go with the clanking contraptions and pitch shifted videos, the vengeful killer that Rock's hunting also has a puppet... but this one has a pig's face!

In light of its zeitgeisty ACAB theme, it's too bad Spiral didn't actually come out a year ago as intended. I found it a solid application of the Saw ethos to zero in on one particular type of repugnant target, corrupt cop archetypes who most audiences wouldn't mind seeing slaughtered. It's reminiscent of the way number 6 treated the health care industry but without all the distractions of interconnected "Son of Jigsaw" stuff. True, the whodunit twist here might be pretty obvious (I mean, one of the victims is clearly not put into a trap...), but at least you could just watch this one and not get lost.

That's not to say Spiral's a stand-alone triumph, because the ending is pretty bunk, and in the tradition of Saw '04's Cary Elwes and Danny Glover, the addition of Rock's and Jackson's famous faces doesn't help to disguise the series' trademark schlocky dialogue. Aside from them, though, the cast does have that proper Saw feel, i.e., a bunch of people who kinda resemble cable series performers you can't exactly place, who then turn out not to be those people when you look them up. Thanks to the memorably gnarly trap deaths - someone has to start a machine that will rip all their fingers out so they won't get electrocuted, another has to sever their own spine to avoid being waterboarded with molten wax - this was a satisfying sequel/reboot/side story/whatever it is, and a fine way to begin supporting my neighborhood theater again.

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