SeparateWay’s review published on Letterboxd:
In 2004, two passionate independent creators gave my teenage generation our very own annual slasher to look forward to. For better or worse, the Saw franchise was a staple for the Halloween season for 6 years and holds a special place in my heart. From Charlie Clouser's unbeatable score to the vicious editing style and sickly saturated color palette. After they closed the book on the series with a lackluster finale in 2010, they resurrected it with 2017's Jigsaw, which, despite having potential, brought nothing new to the series and was the equivalent of derivative fan fiction that didn't pay attention to the lore.
Spiral follows in the same disappointing footsteps, but to an even worse degree because by the time you figure out what the story is, you realize that this did not need to be a Saw movie. It definitely has ideas that could be well integrated into the Saw universe, but they're wasted on a beat-for-beat rehash of what we've come to expect from the 8 other films.
A great Saw film has to balance the elements of continuing the Jigsaw story, introducing interesting victims, and constructing unique traps. Whilst also staying true to the atmosphere of hopelessness and moral ambiguity, decorated by the grungy production design and diseased colors. The traps in Spiral have a gritty and industrial flare, but hold almost no emotional weight for the victims. They're names to be crossed off a fodder list and nothing more. Unlike Jigsaw, the color palette has returned to its familiar over saturated colors and prominent blacks, painting a believable urban city caught in a heat wave (a detail they choose to mention for some reason?)
Chris Rock's performance as a detective desperately trying to keep justice alive in both the city and his precinct is a mixed bag of amusing personality and dramatically mugging to the camera as much as possible. I don't doubt he put his full talent into the movie, as he was one of the driving forces behind making this film happen, but his character is in the wrong movie and doesn't work as a leading man. Meanwhile the rest of the cast, save for Samuel L. Jackson whose talent is wasted in this film, is plagued by embarrassing dialogue (some of which is clearly recorded in post), and lazy delivery.
Ultimately, the major problem with the film is how the overarching Jigsaw story and intrigue that comes with it is nowhere to be found. The motive behind the mysterious murders is the equivalent of a criminal citing a video game or a movie as their inspiration for why they committed their crimes. John Kramer's philosophy, placing those who do not value their life in extreme scenarios of violent survival, is shoehorned in for the sake of brand recognition. Much like how many movie theaters are advertising this movie as "Spiral: SAW" for those who would otherwise have no interest in seeing a movie that is the 9TH INSTALLMENT in a series that no one is asking for anymore.
Spiral doesn't continue the series story, take away from it, or change it in any way. Kudos for not ruining anything already established, but it doesn't answer any questions, reference surviving characters, or add anything fresh. Jigsaw's influence may continue to exist in this world, but if anyone is capable of setting up his traps for the wrong reasons, what's the point? If Lionsgate desperately wants to keep their horror franchise relevant then why are they wasting their time with half baked ideas and a depthless story?
Those who are wondering what else I would expect from a Saw movie are neglecting the fact that a number of the films possess genuine quality. At its core, the Saw series remains as a morality tale that focuses on the dark side of humanity and how much someone is willing to sacrifice to cherish their own life. After 11 years, we shouldn't have to suffer through the same lazy screenwriting that plagued so many of the sequels. And yet the series continues to keep spiraling down into irrelevant mediocrity with a shiny new coat of paint.