The following is a joint review from two critics who love horror, but don’t love the Saw series … anymore, if they ever did.
SK: Well, it’s about 18 hours since we walked out of Spiral: The Book of Saw, the new spin-off from the Saw franchise, starring Chris Rock, Max Minghella and Samuel L. Jackson. This iteration is directed by Darren Lynn Boussman, who made Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV. You and I have spoken about Spiral a lot already, but I’m wondering if you’ve had any new thoughts?
JM: This was definitely the worst Saw movie I’ve ever seen, and none of them are that good. Not only did it have all the typical vices of a Saw movie–perfunctory plot, two-dimensional characters–but even the violence felt pretty unimaginative compared to the other films in the series. The original series had developed a whole backstory and setting which wasn’t very good, but did give the films a bit of backbone. They seemed to be going for more of a Se7en-esque procedural angle on this one, and it doesn’t work at all.
SK: Agreed. Part of that comes down to the acting of Chris Rock. He is woeful, isn’t he? I feel bad saying that because it isn’t like this is a misjudged performance – like, say, Jesse Eisenberg in Batman v Superman – where he’s made a lot of bad choices. No, it’s actually that Chris Rock can’t act at all. There was no portion of this movie where I believed he was Detective Zeke Banks. He had no chemistry with any of the other actors onscreen – despite a valiant effort by Max Minghella as his newly assigned partner, and a satisfactory if phoned-in turn from Samuel L. Jackson as Zeke’s disgraced father. There’s some salvageable moments of Rock delivering stand-up comedy early on that juxtapose well against the carnage. But as soon as he’s required to deliver any sort of human emotion, the entire scene falls apart. I think it could end up being a cult “bad acting performance” – like Tommy Wiseau in The Room. But then it’s not as if the screenplay was helping either.
JM: Yeah, he was so much worse than I expected. A lot of his dialogue is unintentionally comical, but like you say that’s only partly due to his performance. The film really misfires in every respect. The big difference between Spiral and the other Saw movies is this one attempts to do some social commentary, or at least to be socially relevant. It is ostensibly about police corruption and police accountability, in that the new killer is targeting corrupt police officers and Rock’s character is the only honest detective on the force. But it’s just baffling that anyone would attempt to use a Saw movie to talk about serious problems. And on a more basic level, every twist is utterly predictable and the ending made no sense at all. This film literally felt like it was being improvised from scene to scene. It’s hard to overstate just how little interest the story has.
SK: Yeah, like maybe after the critical and commercial success of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, the filmmakers thought: what if we did a similar thing with Saw? And what if we tried to say something about police violence and corruption? And what if we did it really, really badly? It’s like the politics of this film have been tacked on. But then when you look at the horror, that’s been tacked on too. When you peel away these layers, there’s really nothing left to hold onto.
JM: Totally. This is one of those rare films where literally every single element feels tacked on. I was expecting to at least find the violence nauseating, but it didn’t even work on that level. I think they might have seriously misjudged their audience on this one–the real Saw-heads will find it too tame, and mainstream audiences will just be baffled by the whole experience. Have we reached the end of the Book of Saw?
SK: We haven’t! A quick Google search revealed Saw 10 is already in development. I might let you see that one on your own… 2/10
JM: I remember L Ron Hubbard referred to his ten-book Mission: Earth series as a “dekology”, which is a perfectly cromulent word. I’m looking forward to the dekology of Saw. 3/10
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is currently playing in cinemas. And because we can only give out one rating on this here website, Spiral gets a