Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021) - Review : DJ MACK

It’s a sweltering summer in a nameless American city and a serial killer has begun preying on cops. The killer is offing them by using gruesome and inventive death traps themed around the victims’ sins — one policeman, notorious for lying on the witness stand, dies tongueless, while another, with an unjustified killing under his belt, has all his fingers pulled off, including his itchy trigger finger. It’s all very reminiscent of the Jigsaw Killer, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), but he’s been dead for years, hasn’t he? It’s up to dogged cop Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock) to find out before more blue lives shatter.
This is the ninth film in the Saw franchise, which kicked off back in 2004 with the original sleeper hit from Australian filmmakers Leigh Whannell and James Wan. It’s also the second attempt to give the series a soft reboot; another Australian film duo, the Spierig Brothers, gave it a red hot go in 2017 with Jigsaw, a film I know I’ve seen and retain absolutely no memory of. This latest offering exists thanks to star and producer Chris Rock, apparently a fan of the series, whose pitch got over the line after Jigsaw failed to reinvigorate the property. So, will Spiral succeed where Jigsaw failed? Hell, maybe.
I’m not an avowed fan of the Saw series myself, but then again, I don’t mind it either. The series boasts an insanely convoluted mythology and internal narrative logic that fans eat up but has always sailed right past me without ruffling my hair. So, the first film aside — which, when released, was of course not part of a franchise and so works as a discrete whole — the movies exist for me as a series of Grand Guignol vignettes, largely divorced from any narrative meaning. I couldn’t tell you what the hell the actual point is to any of this, but I’m not too proud to admit I get a kick out of well-staged, inventive gore gags.
And on that level, Spiral works. There’s something so … delectable about Saw’s main gimmick, which is the array of Rube Goldberg-like torture traps that victims are dispatched by. Wan and Whannell didn’t invent death-by-gimmick, but they — along with regular series director Darren Lynn Bousman, who returns for directorial duties here — arguably perfected it. A good Saw trap is a little cinematic piece of poetry: thematically linked to the victim’s personal failings or transgressions, aesthetically brutal and unnerving, almost invariably gory, and inevitable — you know that once the mechanism is activated and the clock is ticking, the only outcome is death or mutilation. There’s an old theory that horror fiction is a way for us as consumers to rehearse for our own inevitable demise (pretty sure Stephen King said something along those lines in the intro to Night Shift), and the Saw flicks enable that in a simply sublime way, the relentless rusty cogs and ratchets of the fatal paraphernalia clunking and crunchin