Film Review: The ‘Saw’ Series Gets a Grisly Reinvention in ‘Spiral: From the Book of Saw’

The Saw series was a staple of noughties Halloween cinema-going, before taking a seven year break from 2010 until returning in the form of Jigsaw in 2017. Four years on, a new incarnation arrives, following the chronology of the series and featuring the star power of Chris Rock, Max Minghella and Samuel L. Jackson. Spiral: From the Book of Saw sees Saw II to Saw IV director Darren Lynn Bousman step into the director’s chair once again, proving a steady-hand in the grisly world of the Saw films. Whilst Spiral takes the series on a new direction from the narrative centred on Tobin Bell’s popular John ‘Jigsaw’ Kramer character, it continues to feature the same fast-paced plot twists, a grisly cavalcade of brutal death scenes, and the familiar race against the clock narrative.

Based on a screenplay from Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger, Spiral follows Detective Banks (Rock) and his partner Detective Schenk (Minghella) hunting down a Jigsaw-style copycat who is targeting corrupt police officers. Attempting to catch the killer, whilst operating under the shadow of his esteemed father (Jackson), sees Banks pushed to the brink whilst the body count piles up.

Whilst Bousman has stated that Spiral is not a Saw IX, the project has numerous hallmarks of the series which will invoke fans with a sense of blood-soaked nostalgia. Imagery of the haunting pig masks, the classic Saw theme, references to John Kramer’s legacy, and even the Twisted Pictures branding at the start ensure that Spiral fits perfectly in-line with the series’ chronology and tone. Yet despite this Stolberg and Goldfinger’s narrative centres more on the police procedural elements found in the traditional Saw narrative, with these heightened by impressive turns from Rock and Minghella. With Spiral also centring its attention on the dismantling of corrupt police officials, there’s a prescient social relevance found in the feature which adds a refreshing edge and shade of depth to the torture porn elements.

In the traditional Saw features, the police procedural elements were often the film’s weakest moments yet thankfully Spiral adds a sense of history and consequence to these. Banks’ decision to turn a corrupt colleague in to his superiors is a move that haunts him as he is ostracised from his colleagues (who all take the form of gruff US police stereotypes) and meanwhile causes tension between his then Police Commander father. Yet this makes him the perfect central character – driven by his desire to catch the Jigsaw copycat yet also making him one that could potentially understand the killer’s decision to cleanse the force. Rock is an impressive lead – mostly playing the role straight, yet adding elements of deadpan frustration and exhaustion to the fold in small doses.

Bousman’s direction is tonally in-line with fans’ expectations of the series, crafting the traditional dark aesthetics alongside Director of Photography Jordan Oram; seen in dimly-lit creaking and dripping warehouses or abandoned factories home to the expected elaborate industrial traps and killing machines. Bousman crafts a tense race against the clock urgency, ensuring Spiral is a punchy-ninety minute ride filled the usual plot-twists (albeit not the most challenging ones to spot).

These gruesome traps result in some inventive and near-unwatchable death scenes from fingers ripped off to tongues clamped in grisly vices – and like the original films, although our ‘victims’ are given a choice to escape, it’s never a particularly easy or enticing one. These scenes are an undeniable requirement of the Saw universe and Spiral accepts that with malevolent gusto.

By focussing predominantly on the police procedural elements and the history of Rock’s leading protagonist, Spiral serves as an intriguing reinvention of the Saw narrative. Of course the torture elements and plot twists are still in abundance ensuring that tonally Spiral feels very much like an apt and refreshing continuation of the series with enough to entice back regular fans – despite being unlikely to win over those that failed to find the macabre fun in the originals.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw is in UK cinemas from Monday 17th of May.