Chris Rock sure picked a weird place to test out his new stand-up material. A few minutes on why Forrest Gump wouldn’t work today, and a few more on why cops can’t keep a relationship open this film, Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021). It was a quick reminder of Rock’s style and tone, and it was just as quick to feel out of place in this gruesome horror franchise. The early trailers for this film implied we were going to get a grittier cop drama version with this new chapter, but it ended up feeling like a bunch of poorly-written Law and Order exposition dumps between murder game sequences that the franchise is known for.
Det. Zeke Banks (Rock) is hated by his fellow cops after turning in his old partner many years earlier. Despite his objections, he is paired with rookie detective William Schenk (Max Minghella), working their first case together that appears to latest Jigsaw copycat killer. The biggest difference with this killer is he is targeting cops.
Banks’ introduction makes him seem less like a cop and more like a stand-up comedian who moonlights as a criminal. He is geared up along with three other guys who burst into a drug dealer’s hotel room to rob them of their coke and cash. On their way out of the parking garage, they are stopped by several armed officers – one of whom identifies “Z”, outing him as an undercover officer. This leads to a typical trope scene of the rogue cop being chewed out by Capt. Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols). It’s here where the uninspired dialogue and story rears its ugly head for the first – but definitely not the last- time. Nichols and Rock volley exposition dumps back and forth to catch the audience up on why he’s so reckless. It seems that years earlier, Bank’s father, Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson) was the captain…and that, plus being a snitch, has put a target on his back.
Later in the film, Banks receives a third or fourth package from the killer. For some reason, that particular one was “different”, and they wanted to call in a bomb squad for it. Capt. Garza proclaims there isn’t enough time and tells Banks to open it. Fortunately, one of the writers realized that would endanger ALL of the other officers, so they rapidly wrote in that one of the cops says “clear the room” before they haphazardly move the box to Banks’s desk and open it. Scenes like this plague the movie, and the dialogue within them all feel like they were ripped out of better crime movies and shows.
Fortunately, most people don’t come to the Saw franchise for the cop drama…they’re here for the traps. While there are at least five torture games implemented in the film, only three of them really offer any intrigue. The best one opens the film and is available to watch online as part of the marketing campaign. It involves a man hanging by his tongue on a subway track. The scene is pretty brutal, and sets the bar a little too high for what will follow. That’s not to say there aren’t any other moments that’ll make you squirm, but it’s still just a downward slide for the next 90 minutes.
Spiral could have brought something cool to this fading franchise – but instead, it’s another chapter best left unread. One would be safe in assuming John Kramer would prefer this piece of the puzzle not be tacked onto his legacy. While it’s not the worst horror film out there, it certainly felt like a feeble attempt at reviving the franchise. Spiral earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.