dir: Darren Lynn Bousman
You can’t always blame people who create something for how things ends up, but somehow I do think you can blame Australians James Wan and Leigh Whannell for the fact that people are still trying to pump out these dreadful Saw and Saw-adjacent movies.
They didn’t reinvent the wheel with the original Saw, but they did tap into something, some need not being fulfilled by the previous crop of horror flicks.
There wasn’t enough imagery of people being tortured, you see, or punished for something. People in impossible situations given a choice by a deranged maniac / visionary future candidate for president to either save themselves through harming themselves or someone else, or choosing to die in excruciating ways.
I confess that I did watch some or many of the Saw movies. The first one worked basically as a rigged escape room, and was, dare I say it, some weird kind of ‘fun’. I don’t now nor have I ever particularly enjoyed watching people being harmed, but there was a curious logic at play in these flicks at first.
There’s always been a strange morality at play in horror flicks, and these Saw ones, intellectually deathly as they are, somehow appealed to people despite the nonsense that was being paraded before us. There’s something there about bad people getting their comeuppance, but more than that I cannot say why anyone would think the original Jigsaw serial killer is some kind of hero, anti-hero or standard-bearer to light our way through these darkened times.
Especially these pandemic-laden times. It’s curious that the tack they take here is making the majority of the victims cops. There’s a lot of pig imagery in the flick, a lot of people wearing pig masks, a lot of talk about corruption and how, basically, All Cops are Bastards.
But, and this is a very big but, and I cannot lie, the main issue for the longest time, at least in the States, has been beyond the fact that the cops operate along very similar lines to entrenched organised crime, and more about their propensity for killing unarmed people, predominately people of colour, with little if any repercussions. Most of the cops who’ve done so haven’t even lost their jobs, let alone been charged, regardless of what happened with George Floyd’s murderer.
That’s…not the path that this Spiral flick that we’re constantly reminded is really a stealth Saw reboot, since they mention Jigsaw / John Kramer dozens and dozens of times despite having nothing to do with the plot, takes. This flick isn’t about the thing most people who are angry at the cops in the States are angry about: it’s the more generalised anger against the fact that many cops are corrupt.
The case in point is that the main character, I guess, is played by Chris Rock, who displays a constant constipated anger throughout, and the other headline character who plays his father, and a former police captain, is Samuel L. Jackson. They are not fighting against institutional racism. They are fighting against someone who is killing other homicide detectives in their precinct.
Where is the precinct, as in which city is this movie set? I cannot tell you. They keep talking about the heat, and how there’s a subway, but it’s never really clear where this is all happening. I’m guessing Canada is where it was made, but I have no idea where this story transpires.
Detective Zeke Banks (who looks very uncomfortable throughout) is an apparently good cop surrounded by cops who are pieces of shit. His boss and captain (Marisol Nichols) dotes on him, but says stuff that every police captain says in every cop show and movie. She took over from Zeke’s dad, who, before I ever saw a single frame of the movie, I assumed was corrupt. She forces him to take on a new partner because maybe we had forgotten about Training Day?
Despite his best impression of Denzel, and driving a Trans Am, it turns out not that Zeke is utterly corrupt and murderous, but that he is honest, and all the other cops hate him because he’s honest. He even turned in his previous partner for murdering an unarmed chap.
Everyone is bad except for Zeke, but the bitterness is strong within him. When cops worse than him start dying horribly, and he keeps getting little Tiffany’s boxes with body parts, clues or flash drives, we know this will keep going along until probably either a) he’s revealed to be the killer b) his famous dad is the killer or c) the obvious person who’s obviously the killer right from the fucking start is the killer, and everything else is pointless and excruciating windowdressing.
To say this doesn’t make sense as a revenge thriller would be to imply that flicks like this have to make sense. They don’t. They just have to entertain. This doesn’t. Scenes of corrupt cops pretending to be in agony as their tongues or fingers are slowly ripped off by automated machines and rigged-up processes isn’t as interesting as it sounds on paper. The corrupt cops are given a choice between basically killing themselves immediately or a bit more slowly, but they just die anyway, because they were always going to die.
Inevitably, you know Zeke will end up in one of these traps, but it’s not clear until the end why that would be, or how that was meant to trigger the events that follow, that were going to happen anyway. I’m all for shows where fictional cops get to realise the error of their ways, but this will do nothing to encourage them to reform or stop shooting people for having dark skin.
As for the killer, well, it should be obvious within a few minutes of screentime, but it’s not going to bring much satisfaction.
I did not like this film at all. The curious introduction to the Zeke character has him masquerading as a toecutter, running with a crew who are about to rip off a drug dealer, and he spends his time saying how Forrest Gump was great and all, but wouldn’t fly today, because times have changed.
But with minimal handwaving, it’s never explained what that intro has to do with anything, or why a homicide detective would be going undercover as a toecutter. From there what comes across the most is just how fucking angry Chris Rock is about his divorce.
You might say to me “well, he didn’t write the script, and most of that anti-happy-families stuff is standard cop boilerplate” and I would say “surely you are right, sir or madam or non-binary equivalent”. But I would point out that he is the driving force behind resurrecting this despicable series, he is exec producer and all over the production. He didn’t direct it, for which they brought in the hack that made, to similar dispiriting effect, four of the other Saw flicks, but I’m pretty comfortable saying Chris Rock says whatever the fuck he wants in this movie.
And damn are some of those statements aimed at his ex-wife hard to take. There’s real venom in many of those lines, and I am not here for it. Maybe he, like his character, feel hard done by, but there’s no excuse for this misogynistic bullshit. He betrayed his family, as he readily admitted in his standup special Tambourine, and while I understand what followed in the divorce proceedings was humiliating for him, it’s not like anyone put his dick in a metal trap and told him if he didn’t betray his wife, it was going to get torn off or anything.
Why is Samuel L. Jackson in this? I have no fucking clue. He doesn’t seem to do anything of value, say anything funny / trenchant, or seem to be having much fun. It’s not like he needs the fucking money, surely. There’s only one scene with Rock and Jackson talking dialogue at each other, and it’s not good at all. It made me remember them together in Jackie Brown, but that was a much better film, and a long time ago, and nothing like this waste of digital space, people’s time and money here.
The scene itself makes no sense! Zeke comes home to his apartment and finds the door open. Pulls his gun, walks in, wary. He draws down on his father, sitting there comfortably reading the paper, but underneath the paper, his father has a gun ready to shoot, who, exactly? Zeke then angrily talks about how his father, who owns the building, shouldn’t be traipsing into people’s apartments, because of renters’ rights. Samuel L. then jokes that if only Zeke paid rent, then maybe he’d have renters’ rights(?)
What the absolute fuck? I know Americans are paranoid, and love their guns, but nothing that bad had happened yet in the movie. This is how people greet each other in this universe? Fathers and sons at such odds that they greet each other guns forward even when they’re not that upset about anything?
This franchise continuation offers nothing to no-one, sadly. It takes the issue of police corruption and removes anything contemporary or salient about it, reducing it to something so general it means nothing. The revenge aspect doesn’t mean a lot, because they’re only getting revenge because the franchise requires them to. It makes Chris Rock’s take on a grizzled and disillusioned police detective and renders it the most generic of cop roles you’ve ever seen. I was surprised there weren’t scenes of him drinking a lot, because, you know them cops and their drinking.
As for the villain, he or she probably comes out of this the best, out of anyone. Everyone else looks embarrassed that they’re picking up a paycheck for this, but the actual villain, who had a pretty solid reason for killing only one of these people, despite almost none of their actions making much sense, despite the strange and pointless things they do to fill in time, they seem like they’d benefit from a series of low budget films where they torment guilty people for things they did wrong.
In the next installment, they take on members of the Klan, but not because of their racism or acts of domestic terrorism – instead, vengeance is achieved because of their poor fashion sense. Third Spiral – former military personnel stationed overseas tormented and destroyed not because of war crimes, but for talking with their mouths full, and poor oral hygiene. Fourth installment – murders people who are slow at jigsaw puzzles.
These future pointless films, all of which I hope have Chris Rock in them, in whatever form (maybe eventually as a hologram), will all be as fun and enjoyable as this one.
Spiral was no fun at all.
3 times I’ve had scarier trips to the dentist than anything in this flick out of 10
“I need everyone on this case. He could be anywhere, he could be anyone. We're gonna tear this city apart!” – you’re tearing my heart apart, Chris - Spiral