Cliff’s review published on Letterboxd:
Jigsaw writers Josh Stolberg & Pete Goldfinger and - rather more excitingly - Saw II, III & IV director Darren Lynn Bousman return for a whopping ninth entry in the Saw saga. As with Jigsaw, it spends much of its first act introducing a new set of cops, instead of continuing an ongoing story right off the bat, which for me goes against the whole spirit of the series. Still, it's been a long time since those original seven movies now, and if the franchise is to continue, then Spiral offers a potential first new chapter (again).
It's a police procedural first, and a trap-filled splatter movie second. Heading up the investigation into elaborate cop killings committed by a presumed Jigsaw copycat is Chris Rock as gobby detective Zeke Banks, and his performance is bloody good. It's very strange to see Rock's take-no-prisoners monologuing shoehorned into a Saw movie, and there are times when you can see him thinking, "At last, I get my Beverly Hills Cop!" (although, truth be told, it's more of an "At last, I get my The Adventures of Ford Fairlane" situation). But somehow it works, and Spiral certainly needs a strong lead because most of the rest of the cast aren't given a lot to work with.
It's impossible for me to know what it would be like to watch this movie without already being familiar with the franchise. As a standalone horror-thriller, I'm not sure that it does enough to make a big splash. But for fans, the obligatory pre-title trap feels like a horribly comforting place to be, and the fact that there's no Billy doll on the accompanying video, and the voice isn't John Kramer's, is actually quite chilling, because it suggests that this time, we really are on the lookout for a copycat. I'm not sure where Zeke gets the idea that Kramer never targeted cops (tell that to Eric Matthews and Daniel Rigg), and the movie has the most underwhelming twist of any Saw entry. But it does hold one final sting for the very end, and it's a good'un!