Review of “Spiral: From the Book of Saw”

The slow return to normalcy continues. The CDC announced fully vaccinated people could go without masks while numerous communities lifted their mask requirements. Some privately owned businesses continue to require masks in order to receive service. Former child star, now proudly conservative adult, actor Rick Schroder filmed an encounter with a Costco employee, complaining about having to wear a mask inside the store. I don’t like wearing masks any more than Mr. Schroder does. They are hot and cause my face under the mask to sweat. They also fog up my glasses with each exhale. I can’t wait to put all mine in a drawer and never think of them again. However, we are nowhere near a fully vaccinated population with many questioning the safety, efficacy and even need for it. The likelihood of a variant form of COVID-19 developing that’s vaccine resistant grows with each day a big chunk of the public doesn’t vaccinate. And Mr. Schroder ignores the fact there are other rules he must follow to be allowed to do business with a Costco. For instance, they likely have a “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” rule. Does he believe he can walk around the big box store with his now likely saggy body on full display? Doesn’t that trample his freedoms? A privately held business can make rules about customer conduct and choose not to do business with anyone that violates or ignores those rules. For instance, the theater I went to this week to see “Spiral: From the Book of Saw” required I wear a mask unless I was eating and drinking. Considering the quality of this film, they maybe should have required a blindfold as well.

Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock) turned in a dirty cop several years ago and ever since, his fellow officers have considered him an untrustworthy rat. They ignored his calls for backup leading to his being shot. His father was at the time also the Chief of Police, Captain Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson). His father is now retired, but Zeke is still in a squad room surrounded by coworkers that don’t trust him, hence he can’t trust them. Det. Marv Boswick (Dan Petronijevic) is chasing a purse snatching suspect in the sewers when he’s abducted. He wakes up with a device clamped to his tongue as he hangs over a subway train track. A television plays a recording telling Boswick he has a choice to make: He can either be hit by the train due to arrive in two minutes, or he can jump from the small platform on which he is standing and rip out his lying tongue and probably survive. Making the choice too late, both options occur. Zeke is called to the scene along with his new partner, rookie Det. William Schenk (Max Minghella). When they return to the precinct, a box is delivered to Zeke with a zip drive featuring the same voice as the recording played for Boswick, featuring the image of a spiral painted on the side of the courthouse. When officers arrive, there’s another box containing Boswick’s tongue and his badge. The theory that it’s a Jigsaw copycat is quickly developed and this time the killer is going for dirty cops, many of whom have a direct connection to Zeke.

“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” is the ninth film in the horror series. Original “Saw” star Tobin Bell only appears in a photograph and is otherwise not in the movie. Anytime a film series reaches nine installments, it is likely to have dropped off in quality, however many were excited when this sequel was announced with Chris Rock as the lead actor and heavily involved in its development. While most of the original creators of the franchise were not involved in this film, it was viewed as a legitimate effort to reinvigorate the series that began in 2004 and put out a new installment every year through 2010 before taking a seven year break. 2017’s “Jigsaw” was a big commercial success and “Spiral…” seemed to be a sure fire hit when it was announced. And yet, it struck me as amateurish, jumbled, poorly structured and oddly shot.

Chris Rock gives it his all to make “Spiral…” something special and entertaining, but his performance is one of the big failures of the film for me. Rock is either low key to the point of asleep or hyper like he’s on stage performing for a standup audience. There’s very little in the middle. The script Rock is given doesn’t help as he’s either hurling insults at the cops he doesn’t trust or yelling at Capt. Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols) about not being able to trust the other cops in his squad. Rock appears to be “winging it” with his performance for returning director Darren Lynn Bousman who helmed “Saw II-IV.”

The traps in “Spiral…” seem uninspired. Dangling by your tongue and having your fingers pulled off, to name just two, sound awful and probably would be horrific to experience, but Jigsaw in the first film constructed much more elaborate torture devices that required less hardware. In “Saw,” the traps and “games” were mostly psychological. The victim had to make a choice that was both physically and emotionally devastating. And even if they survived, there was a price to pay. As the traps became more elaborate and the damage more gory, they lost their emotional punch. And one of the torture traps in “Spiral…” seems both silly and non lethal. It involves glass recycling. Good for the Earth but apparently bad for your health. Perhaps I prefer my serial killers to be more hands-on and not require a mechanical engineering degree.

“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” is rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, pervasive language, some sexual references and brief drug use. The aftermath of the traps is gory and seeing them in action might sicken an easily turned stomach. Horror veterans will be unaffected. With both Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson in the cast, the F-bombs fly at a high frequency. Both the drug use and sexual references are brief. There are some shootings shown.

“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” is hoped to revive one of the most profitable movie franchises in history. None of the films cost more than $20 million to produce and all have returned a minimum of six times their production budget at the box office. That means this installment needs to gross $120 million in ticket sales, VOD rentals/purchases and DVD/Blu Ray sales. I’m kind of doubting that’s possible given the pandemic and the glut of streaming options available to keep us entertained in our homes. While I’m not a huge “Saw” franchise fan, I always hope I’m putting my money down on an entertaining film. Hardcore fans might find much to love in this latest entry. For me, it was not quite torture, but not much fun either.

“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” gets two stars out of five.

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