If anything, Spiral made me want to have a conversation with director Darren Lynn Bousman even more. Walking to the screening, part of me expected to see a film that hit on some familiar beats while delivering gruesome moments of “torture porn.” However, what I experienced was something truly unexpected. With the help of co-writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger, Bousman has managed to take something that has been rehashed and given it a rebirth. Before anyone becomes dismissive of these feets, think about how many sequels have just been awful. Exactly!
Spiral is a perfect blend of humor, suspense, and absolute terror, a balance that is extremely challenging to pull off because of a need to be faithful to the film’s legacy. It is safe to say that nobody is coming to a Jigsaw movie to see comedy. However, in this instance, it works because it serves as a palette cleanse between those horrific moments of torture that are hard to digest.
Bousman ventures away from the simplistic structure of the previous Saw releases. This film is more than just about a man who is way into mutilating individuals. Jigsaw is a cat and mouse game, but there’s more to this than just cops trying to find a murder. The film is about motive. What would cause someone to take up the mantle left by Jigsaw? Perhaps the strongest element of this release is Bousman gets a bit playful with the narrative structure, which creates moments that mean less than they appear to be. When it seems clear who is behind all of it, he pulls the rug right out from under you. Nothing is as it appears in this next chapter!
The film shifts into overdrive right start. We find ourselves watching off-duty detective Marv Bozwick chase a thief dress as Uncle Sam down a drainage pipe only to be attacked by a figure wearing a grotesque pig mask. He wakes to find himself suspended by his tongue in an active subway tunnel. As he begins to realize that a train is actively approaching, a recorded message offers him a twisted deal. If he rips out his lying tongue, he will live; if he dangles, it’s certain death. Of course, it’s too little, too late, and he ends up being killed by a speeding train.
We then get introduced to brash Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock), Detective-in-Training William Schenk (Max Minghella), who is picked to go down and investigate this horrific subway death. . While investigating the incident, it becomes evident that this death is not an ordinary homicide. Not only do they see that it is one of their own mutilated beneath the city, but the way they did it is reminiscent of the long-dead serial killer Jigsaw. Could this be the return of Jigsaw or a copycat with a cause?
Banks father, retired Police Chief Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), believes that things will get worse if this indeed a copycat. It becomes apparent rather quickly that their worst suspicions have been realized and that every second counts as they track down this psychopath. However, just as the bodies of dead cops begin to pile up, we see that this killer’s reign of terror has no end.
While some might have been bewildered by the choice of Rock to play the lead in the film, it is clear this is the right choice. Rock does lean into his strengths at points but still manages to balance that with a believable portrayal of a man tortured by a decision he made that has him labeled a “rat” in the eyes of his fellow cops. Rock has great chemistry with Minghella in the film, which is always a bonus in this genre. Jackson is in more of a supportive role in Spiral and serves as a reminder that Rock’s character Zeke has been living in the shadow of his father as well.
Jordan Oram’s Cinematography was also a strength. Terror often is born from what is seen but also what isn’t. Oram is awfully creative during those “Jigsaw” moments in the film shooting from different angles creating this presence that was always seemingly watching every move. Jason wasn’t always on screen during Friday the 13th, but we constantly felt him throughout. Oram’s camera work created made the idea that somehow, this killer was everywhere.
Where Spiral could have some criticism is from the hard-core fans of this genre. The amount of torture scenes and bloody aftermaths is seemingly reduced, which might irritate some, but that did not fit into Bousman’s vision. This rebirth is also an origin story. Insanity is what drove the “Jigsaw” killer to commit heinous acts; Spiral explores what would drive someone to pick up where he left off. Try to avoid spoilers going in. Going in blind will provide the most optimal viewing experience possible. Bousman’s Spiral not only honors the legacy of Saw but opens the door for the next generation of films.