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In 2011, Saw was practically dead as a franchise. It had started small and respectable, James Wan and Leigh Whannell proving what a couple of crazy Aussie kids with no money could do for horror. Grossing $100 million on a $1 million, the old “horror franchise” story repeats with a half dozen sequels rolled out every year on budgets between $4 million and $20 million, raking in tremendous profits. It’s what Blumhouse has built its business on. But after the death of the John Kramer/Jigsaw character played by Tobin Bell in Saw III, it started getting stupid. Just like with Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13thand Texas Chainsaw, there were so many sequels being pumped out that fans lost track and interest come the 7th or 8th movie. And it also desperately went to 3D like all the others did. Box office and fan interest diminished until the so called “Final Chapter” limped to theatres in 2010.
Death is only the beginning for horror franchises. Jason has had his “Final Chapter” twice, Michael Myers has had three films all called Halloween, and there are so many rebootquels of Texas Chainsaw that a marathon will hurt your brain.
In 2017, Jigsaw, a proposed reboot, was released to middling fanfare. A decent box office take of $100 million on a $10 million budget, but no better than the last three Saw movies, and it had marketed itself on being a brand new story in the Saw universe, but was the same thing, different day. People locked up in torture traps, constant flashbacks showing their cliché backstories, and a lame twist that a guy you thought was dead is really alive and is some apprentice of John Kramer we never knew about. Cue “Hello Zepp” by Charlie Clouser over a montage of secrets revealed, and the main character dies in a horrific way. Roll credits. Fans didn’t like it, critics didn’t like it, so we should’ve moved on.
Except for the fact that Spiral is exactly the same experience.
To the new movie’s credit, it starts with a different premise. Instead of the focus being on characters stuck in ghoulish and grotesque traps that they have to escape from, we follow Chris Rock’s detective Zeke Barnes as he investigates a Jigsaw copycat killer targeting corrupt police officers involved with Barnes’ past.
As things go on, the audience realise this is nowhere near the “fresh direction for the franchise” the marketing and producers had promised. Darren Lynn Bousman is director, who also directed Saw II, III, and IV, and the screenplay was written by Jigsaw writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger. People get locked up in torture traps, constant flashbacks show everyone’s cliché backstories (complete with hilarious fake moustaches), and a lame twist that a guy you thought was dead is really alive and is some fan of John Kramer that took a massive leap from revenge to sadistic torture. Cue “Hello Zepp” by Charlie Clouser over a montage of secrets revealed, and the main character gets trapped in the villain’s master plan. Roll credits. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
The screenplay is the same cliché-ridden trashfire that the Saw franchise has always felt comfortable with. The relationships are predictable nonsense, the characters spew “f**k” and “son-of-a-b**ch” because the writers think that’s what cool people do, and painfully obvious exposition is disguised as natural conversation. But I doubt the Saw fans come for scintillating dialogue. What about the traps? The gore? The horror?
Look somewhere else.
The traps do deliver on the expected gore, but they are still plagued by a terrible lack of logic. The iconic traps from the first Saw movie may have been extreme, but you believed they could be escaped from, which then created solid tension. Since then, every trap in every movie has just been about increasing the scale of absurdity until nothing felt real.
In Spiral, the traps make no sense because instead of it being about an actual choice of life or death, the only scenario possible is death. Get hit by a train or rip out your own tongue. Be electrocuted or rip all your fingers out of your hands. Drown in hot wax or sever your own spinal cord. What is the point? The secret killer clearly only wants these people to die so why not take any easier method than all this pointless and excessive effort that couldn’t be done logically by one person.
The writers box these characters into scenarios designed only to satisfy fans of the franchise, but they make no sense at all when viewed from our perspective. These are idiotic characters doing dumb things not because they were the best decisions for the story but because they’re easy. Logic and effective tension are thrown out the window in favour of grotesque garbage for its own sake.
Saw is reminds me of the Fast & Furious franchise. Humble (sort of) beginnings that lead to 8 sequels of varying quality, a confusing timeline of half-prequels, characters clearly dying but coming back all the same later, meaningless spin-offs, and James Wan. The difference is that the Fast & Furious films have evolved to be more crowd-pleasing in their absurdity, with most of the filmmakers and cast members leaning in to what the franchise has become. The Saw franchise, and especially Spiral, is still stuck in the 2000s.
Jump scares timed with obnoxiously loud animal noises, overly-saturated lighting, super-speed footage of nothing important, and exhaustingly incomprehensible editing. This looks and feels like a banned music video from 2005 and seeks to set the horror genre back about 10 years. Horror has moved far beyond the dark days of “torture porn” and “found footage” knock-offs.
Spiral is a turgid retread that, just like Jigsaw 4 years ago, pretends to be something different and is nothing but. A talented cast of Chris Rock, Max Minghella, and Samuel L. Jackson (of all people) is wasted on pointless material and nonsensical gore that does nothing to keep the Saw franchise relevant in the 2020s. Spiral: From the Book of Saw is gross, boring, overindulgent, and a miserable waste of time.
And there’ll probably be a new one in 5 years.
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Writers: Josh Stolberg, Peter Goldfinger
Starring: Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Samuel L. Jackson
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