Spiral, From the Book of Saw

Peter Malone MSC 20 May 2021

The ninth episode in the popular horror franchise, Saw, but this time the killings are in the context of a police investigation and corrupt police.

SPIRAL, FROM THE BOOK OF SAW, US, 2021. Police investigation, serial killer. Starring Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Samuel L Jackson, Marisol Nichols. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. 93 minutes. Rated R 18+ (High impact violence, blood and gore).

Most movie fans know how to react when they see Saw in the title of a film. (And something of a shock when they realise that the first Saw film opened almost 20 years ago – and that this is the ninth episode in what has become the Saw franchise.) No problem for fans. They will immediately want to see Spiral.

For audiences who are not sure that they want to see Spiral, to enter into the world of Saw, a grim world of capture, imprisonment, torment, death, they might like to watch the first five minutes of this film (but will probably need fewer than five) to determine whether they want to stay or not.

There is a chase, a capture, a gruesome hanging of the victim in the New York subway, a train approaching, a television monitor challenging the prisoner, accusing him of police corruption and lying in court cases, an impossible option whereby he might save his life…

Reassuring fans of the franchise, this kind of scenario is repeated regularly throughout the film. In the early 2000s, commentators coined the phrase “torture porn” citing the Saw films as examples of this graphic, grim, depiction of torture in close-up. Spiral will probably be cited also in this context.

But there is a shift in the storytelling. If the torture sequences were omitted or, at least, toned down, then this would be a police investigation story. There is the issue of the unexpected deaths, discovered to be vindictive executions, accusations of police brutality.

At the centre of the investigation is veteran policeman, Zeke Banks. He is played, of all people, by Chris Rock who, for many decades, has had a strong reputation as a stand-up comedian as well as over the years building up a catalogue of comedy movies, romantic comedies, dramas. In the initial minutes where he appears, waiting to go on a raid, he reminds us of his comic routines, an amusing riff on how to talk about Forrest Gump with politically correct vocabulary, about his disabilities. And there are some comic moments throughout the film.

However, all is deadly serious. Police are being killed. Zeke’s father, the former chief of police, now in retirement, becomes involved in the investigation – and, as a bonus, he is played by Samuel L  Jackson. In the meantime, the officer in charge appoints a rookie, William (Max Minghella), to work with Zeke, who is initially resentful. However, immediately they are called out to the first above-mentioned torture/execution.

On the one hand, there is the buddy aspect of the two police working together. There are tense details of the developments of the investigation. Then there is a twist, three possible suspects as to who is behind all these Spiral killings – and a surprise (or not a surprise) to discover the truth and the credibility of the motivation.

Perhaps the most unsatisfactory aspect of Spiral is its final moment! Just as everything is resolved, Zeke turns towards the killer – and the final credits suddenly appear. Well, that obviously means a sequel!

Released 13 May
Peter Malone MSC is an associate Jesuit Media