Cert – 18, Run-time – 1 hour 33 minutes, Director – Darren Lynn Bousman
A copycat Jigsaw killer begins to target a police department one by one, getting closer to solo-working Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock).
It’s odd to think that after almost 20 years, and on the ninth film, the Saw franchise has only just reached the idea of a copycat killer. The Jigsaw killer has been dead for years. John Kramer is simply mentioned in this way, Tobin Bell only appearing in old photos being scanned over for potential evidence. Alongside the change in killer so has the change in targets, subjected to similar Jigsaw-style ‘games’. This new Spiral killer – after the sign left behind as a potential clue near each crime scene – appears to be specifically targeting a local police department, picking off the officers one by one. Starting with an off-duty detective who’s been known to lie under oath, in front of a jury, this very much seems like a film targeting, and inspired by, news stories of the past few years relating to police corruption and brutality.
In this vein the film – from veteran Saw director Darren Lynn Bousman and Jigsaw writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger; apparently with touch-ups from Saw fan Chris Rock – certainly travels more along the lines of police drama/ thriller than a conventional Saw film. For fans of the franchise’s traps, branded by many as torture porn, there’s very little to see here. Three or four brief scenes placed in-between investigation is all that’s really present. The main Saw related content that we get is in the final stages of the piece, although such elements begin to feel rushed and when compared with the rest of the film appear to have come out of nowhere and change the tone dramatically.
For the most part we follow Detective Zeke Banks (Rock). Having never been able to live up to previous career heights and cases 12 years ago, and living in the shadow of his former police chief father, Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson – feeling rather out of place here, when sporting a moustache in flashbacks he looks as if he’d be more at home in a Steve Harvey biopic), he feels undermined by his fellow detectives and officers. Preferring to work solo he finds it difficult to adjust to being partnered with newbie Detective William Schenk (Max Minghella), let alone with others who have been in the department for years. Early on there are a handful of seemingly needless conversations between Banks and Schnek simply to show them going from one place to another. And while these die down the more the film goes on it still feels as if some time is wasted with some of these earlier interactions, potentially just there to build-up the relationship between the two characters; with their different outlooks on their work and those they do it with.
As the investigation increases, and more senior figures within the department are found bloodied and dismembered in all sorts of twisted contraptions, Zeke finds each new target growing closer and closer to him. Seeing most of the film from his perspective leads to more of the by-the-numbers investigation being witnessed, as he, alongside his colleagues, tries to hunt down a copycat killer who leaves behind cryptic videos with real production value. This does mean that when the more common Saw elements come along there’s a somewhat staggered effect as the film shifts from one tone and style to another, and the same for when switching back again. It dampens any potential effect on the viewer from both genre styles, not helped by the general lack of subtlety that runs throughout the narrative.
There’s unlikely enough here to prove enjoyable to most Saw fans, and the unsubtle, generic nature of the crime drama receives just as much of a cold reception. At times it feels as if this latest entry into the franchise is aiming for a mixture of different audiences – the soundtrack hints at an attempt to bring in a new group of modern fans alongside the different potential audiences for the various tones and genre elements of the film. And yet, this isn’t the biggest issue of the film, it doesn’t quite feel like an unsteady jumble. Instead what we get is a rather lacklustre police thriller with some unimpactful Saw elements dotted throughout too.
Tone changes stagger between Saw horror and by-the-books police drama/thriller make it harder to engage with the lacklustre nature and lack of subtlety of Spiral: From The Book Of Saw.