‘Spiral’ brings back ‘Saw’ franchise to torture audiences

Despite a fresh coat of paint, this is very much another 'Saw' movie

Brad Keefe

It’s been 17 years since “Saw” turned making audiences squirm into box-office gold.

The first movie was, well, not very good. But its single-location shoot and over-the-top gore hit before the boom of “escape rooms” and a flood of horror torture porn, uncovering a formula that worked with moviegoers.

Then it became a franchise, a nearly annual rite of Halloween passage that resulted in five sequels and, most recently, the prequel origin story “Jigsaw," from 2017.

So we’re done here, right? Of course not. There’s always money to be made.

“Spiral: From The Book of Saw” starts a new chapter in the world of "Saw" with the biggest name actors yet, no offense to Cary Elwes or Danny Glover.

Ezekiel "Zeke" Banks (Chris Rock) is a police detective following in the footsteps of his esteemed police chief father (Samuel L. Jackson). A series of twisted murders appear to be targeting the police. The murders also bear an eerie resemblance to the Jigsaw killings. This leads the cops to believe that have a copycat who is targeting their own.

Lest you think this is another example of “copaganda,” the murders all seem to be tied to the corrupt past of the police department.

Zeke and his rookie partner, William Schenk (Max Minghella), take the lead on the case, which causes internal tensions, given that Zeke previously called out one of their own and is viewed as a rat on the force.

“Spiral” was also produced by Rock, and was directed by series veteran Darren Lynn Bousman.

It feels relatively fresh in a series that was very paint-by-numbers. The early sequels were so forgettable, and I dropped off as the movies focused increasingly on finding new ways to torture people. The latest take also is so loosely tied to the original series that it will play fine on its own.

Of course, “Spiral” does find new ways to torture people right out of the gate. If you want gore, you got it.

There’s also an obvious timeliness to a story of violent vengeance centered on police corruption, although this wouldn’t be overly mistaken for social commentary.

Despite a fresh coat of paint, this is very much another “Saw” movie, albeit one that gets back to the series roots. Those roots being ripping off “Seven.”

“Spiral” has that film's grittiness, and centers more on the investigation, so much so that it feels like the most direct rip-off yet. Still, that elevated cast improves things as much as possible. Rock gets a very Chris Rock comedic bit in early, but most of the time he’s in a more dramatic lane, and he's actually not bad at it.

The fact that “Spiral” is one of the best “Saw” movies still only means that it’s OK. It would be a decent send-off, but of course the door is left wide open for more sequels.

They might not be done torturing us yet.

“Spiral: From The Book of Saw”

Now playing in theaters

2 stars out of 5