Released: 13th May
Seen: 12th May (Advanced Screening)
The Saw franchise is, to put is mildly, polarising. Some people hate it and think it’s disgusting torture porn with little artistic merit, some think it’s a fun over the top slasher series that pushes boundaries, rewards longtime fans and occasionally has something important to say. I fall into the latter category, a fan and defender of this franchise.
Saw 6 would easily be my personal favourite, the one time in the franchise when they really tried to say something about the healthcare system in America. Sure, the series would eventually spiral out of control with the abysmal Saw 3D and the forgettable Jigsaw but really, every horror fan knows that slasher franchises are notoriously hard to kill… and thank god because Spiral might be the best Saw movie ever.
Spiral follows Det. Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), one of the few good cops who is still dealing with the aftermath of turning in his corrupt partner who murdered a witness. Ever since then Zeke hasn’t been willing to have another partner, but his commander orders him to get one in the form of rookie cop William Schenk (Max Mighalla). Their first job together seems to be pretty simple, it appears a homeless man was hit by a train and they have to go handle it.
Of course, once they get there, they learn that the man who died was a cop and it was no accident, it was the work of the legendary Jigsaw killer (or probably one of his disciples since he has been dead for a long time) and now they, along with Zeke’s dad Marcus (Samuel Jackson) have to figure out who is killing all of the corrupt cops in the precinct before it’s too late.
So, the reason that Saw 6 was my favourite of the franchise was its willingness to be political as hell. Spiral has decided to outdo that by being as relevant as it can be by not only tackling the entire justice system but calling out everything that is wrong with it, from cops killing unarmed men in their cars to cops who lie on the stands. It’s blunt, it’s brutal and it’s brilliant as hell.
Spiral is a rollercoaster ride full of corrupt cops facing the Jigsaw version of justice while the one good cop on the entire force tries to save them, even when they turn on him. It’s so far from subtle it can’t even see it with a telescope, which is how I like my Saw movies. I enjoy them big, bold, over the top but with something to say and Spiral has ticked all the boxes by not only giving me what I expect from the best Saw movies, while also delving into the strong social commentary that only the best horror films can do.
If you just come to Saw for the traps, which has kinda been the appeal of this franchise since the second movie, then you are in for some beauties this time. Spiral‘s traps run the gamut from viscerally disturbing to tense as hell to surprisingly beautiful, each one more and more elaborate and always so pointed in what they’re trying to say.
The final trap, indeed the final three minutes might be the best thing Saw has ever done, it’s certainly the best moment in Spiral. I’m not going to spoil it, but it’s a brutal image that on its own lays out one of the major problems with modern day policing… yes, this is in a Saw movie, the same franchise that started with the guy from The Princess Bride cutting off his foot, we have grown so much.
What genuinely amazes me about Spiral is how good the actors are, better than usual for this franchise (cos yes, the Saw films have some great acting and any fan of the genre will agree with me on that.) I mean, Sam Jackson alone is so damn charming that every scene with him had me sitting up straight just waiting to hear what he’s gonna say. Max Mighella is a charming co-lead who really makes you like him within seconds of meeting him.
The entire cast has that weird kind of charm that works even when they’re playing assholes. Honestly, the one who was a little off might be Chris Rock but only because he is having to carry the entire film and it’s not an easy task, slips happen so he’s only delivering a very good performance while others are great. Still, it is quite a good performance that manages to carry the more emotional beats, but then there’s moments where you can almost see that it’s just Chris Rock and while I love Chris Rock I was really enjoying the character work he was going for.
The extra bonus is that this is very much a stand-alone film, you don’t need any knowledge of what came before it in order to enjoy this one (though I can’t imagine who would go to the 9th part of a franchise without seeing one of the other 8 parts). A lot of the famous iconography, such as Billy the Puppet or just the need to shove Tobin Bell in the film somewhere, has been dropped. Spiral maintains the tone, the concept of traps and the knowledge that the other films absolutely existed in this world, but it never requires prior knowledge to enjoy it.
Spiral is exactly what Saw needs to be, it’s what Saw can be when it’s at its best. A fun brutal thrill ride with a whole bunch of interesting characters, shocking gore that’ll make the audience squirm and a message that it delivers with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the testicles. It will delight, horrify and entertain any fan of the franchise, but those who haven’t seen the previous films will probably get a little kick out of it too. I honestly hope we get more stories from the book of Saw because if they’re like this, we’re in for a good time.
Now I’m just gonna wait patiently for the think pieces that the last 3 minutes are going to create because… oh boy, that last shot is something else.