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Review: 'Spiral' admirably tries but fails to spin 'Saw' franchise in new direction

Courtesy of Lionsgate


A franchise on life support in desperate need of creative infusion, Lionsgate’s flagship series and consistent moneymaker “Saw” supposedly ran its course with 2010’s “The Final Chapter” before stoking the fire with redundancy and twisty, convoluted timelines that didn’t make sense in the soft 2017 reboot “Jigsaw.” But reliable IP is the goldmine in studio backlogs and when Chris Rock casually floated a concept to studio brass about reviving “Saw” with a glean 21st century makeover, the proposition was hard to resist.

Giving the franchise its biggest dose of starpower to date (save for Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, or Danny Glover - sorry Donnie Whalberg) Chris Rock and Samuel L Jackson add their comedic spice and flavor to “Spiral: From the Book of Saw,” another chapter spun out of this horror cinematic universe. Except its attempt at trying to spin the series in a refreshing, back to basics, direction makes it feel like another rehash, emboldened by a woke 21st century antagonist (with a social justice agenda) and a gotcha last second reveal that isn’t so much implausible, but predictable beyond parody.

Most folks signing up for another entry in the “Saw” pamphlet want memorable traps with gorey dismemberments. “Spiral” is surprisingly tame in that department, opting for a more engaging narrative as opposed to a cattle call of victims starring down the barrel of creative mechanisms designed for maximum torture. Hardly anyone watches films like “Final Destination” or “Saw” for the plot, but the series deserves credit for taking a low-budget indie from Sundance and fleshing out (no pun intended) an arsenal of subplots and characters that sustained several films. I couldn’t tell you which traps belong to any of the films, but I remember them quite vividly, which counts for something.

As for “Spiral,” Rock is the only saving grace playing the disgruntled and disgraced loose cannon detective Zeke Burns, who when we first meet him is riffing on how politically incorrect “Forrest Gump” is, followed by a tasteful sizzle reel of what makes his level of comedy hilarious. After we’re adjusted to Rock’s wily, off-the-cuff approach - and a bloody execution before the title card - “Spiral” digs in to Burn’s troubled history, notably his resilience at letting crooked cops in the LAPD get away with murder. A fitting, though uninspired, premise for our current divisive social and political climate.

Zeke is paired with rookie William Schenk (Max Minghella) to hunt down a copycat Jigsaw killer brutally murdering officers on the force in a series of grotesque traps. For whatever reason, the killer is fixated on Burns and his loyalty to the police department. This creates an interesting dynamic between themselves and Zeke’s retired father (Samuel L. Jackson) who faced a wave of criticism for championing a controversial police reform bill when he was captain of the department.

It’s a cement truck of exposition unspooled in a manner of 15-minutes and franchise staple Darren Lynn Bousman keeps the 90-minute horror flick moving at the expense of a messy backstory that awkwardly tries to tow the line between vigilantism and horror trifecta. They don’t mesh particularly well, but one can appreciate Rock’s boldness in getting the main point across. In typical “Saw” fashion, “Spiral” ends on a monumental cliffhanger, all but signaling this is just one chapter in a planned revival. Full disclosure, “Spiral” piqued my curiosity, but now audiences must ask themselves if the commitment will be worth the gamble. The choice is yours.

Grade: C

SPIRAL opens in theaters Friday, May 14th


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