Rated R for Saw style killings, although this one has far more of a Se7en / Silence of the Lambs vibe than the other movies. This might be the least gory of the bunch, but that doesn't mean that it isn't extremely gory. There's some brutal stuff. There's also some language that these movies tend to have. But you do know that the two big actors in this movie are Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson? Yeah, there's going to be some f-bombs. R.
DIRECTOR: Darren Lynn Bousman
Like, I'm done for a while on these Saw movies, right? I know that I'm probably not going to see Saw X in the theaters, so that means I get to take a break and say that I'm mostly caught up. If you think that I'm goign to knock out a bunch of those early Saw movies again because I want to finish it for the blog, you're mostly wrong. There's a part of me that wants to just be a completionist and say that I have a blog for every Saw movie on this page. But there's also a bigger part of me who got excited for Spooky Season for the first time in years when he figured out that there are curated lists of horror classics that I haven't seen. So, yeah, I don't need to rewatch Saw I-V.
But speaking of Saw I-V, this is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman? The same Darren Lynn Bousman who made some of the worst entries in the series? How is that possible? Is none of this Bousman's fault? Do you give him a budget, talented actors, and probably time to make a movie and he returns something fairly solid. Sure, I know that, for some reason, Spiral was a quasi-passion project for Chris Rock. Maybe Rock had some influence. But I also am applauding for studios understanding that people can't do things on the cheap all of the time. While I can't say that Spiral is one of those movies that is going to change society or even exist outside of the context of Saw, it's not a bad movie. Predictable, yes. Exploitative, yes. Bad, probably not. Again, I keep evaluating these movies contextually. For a Saw movie, I'll even say it's good. But it is also a painful reminder that the guy who made the majority of the bad Saw movies made this one and it looks pretty solid. This is a movie that could have existed in theaters without the Saw name attached to it. I mean, it's almost weirder that it is a Saw movie. I read the background on how this movie was made in a Variety or a New York Times article. (For a guy who teaches English and makes a huge hullaballoo about this, I'm being really bad about citing my sources.) Chris Rock was at LionsGate. He saw the properties that they had and was interested in doing something with Saw. If you took away some of the gore and some of the world building, this is a movie that could have stood on its own two feet as just a dark cop thriller. It's like how Die Hard with a Vengeance wasn't originally a Die Hard movie. Studios need to respect that, even though something could be made without the resources or the time, it probably shouldn't be.
I don't want to gush about this movie because, honestly, it was just fine. Again, it's all about context. I felt starved for good content with the Saw movies I was watching. I know. No one made me do it. I wasn't hate watching them. Read my thoughts on Jigsaw. I wanted these movies to be good. Spiral's biggest problem is that it is incredibly predictable. I thought someone spoiled it for me a while ago by telling me "it was the cop". Okay, everyone's a cop, so I'm giving myself the win about figuring out who the killer was in this movie. Although I was also a little disappointed that my answer for the killer was slightly better. (I pulled a Scream and made it two killers. I had Angie as the second killer because she was able to pull a lot more strings than Schenk. That's honestly a pretty frustrating plothole in the story, Schenk getting himself connected to Zeke.) But Schenk is telegraphed pretty hard in this movie. It's in one of the moments that just highlights him as a character. If you have a small moment where you give away your cell phone, regardless of reason, that guy did it. (For the most part. That phone still came into play in Scream 3, even if it wasn't taken by the killer.) But also, there's some meta analysis that is a bit too non-diagetic and you couldn't hold against Zeke.
The biggest one is that this is a Saw movie. This franchise loves showing you people getting ripped apart and put into games. If there's a body of a major character and we didn't see that person "play a game", that person's not dead. The first thing I thought is that you can't identify someone by a tattoo in these movies. Did I know that Schenk was the witness's kid? Nope. I think the motive always requires a leap of faith that is the burden of the screenwriter. I always forgive myself when it comes down to the why of the whole thing. In real life, when I have a suspect, I'm trying to find a way to piece together a backstory using resources. The writer doesn't really feel the need to expound on details. With the case of Schenk, in the smallest way there's a bit of a retcon. Zeke saw a kid at the shooting and bonded with him (in a weird way that involved him whispering. Was his partner ready to kill a kid?). We never saw that moment in the story. I can't help but thinking that this movie is a bit reminiscent of Batman: Hush. Hush was this really well made Batman comic by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee. Unfortunately, it's criminally predictable. We're talking about a character in depth that we've never talked about before and he's the big bad guy we're looking for? Yeah, that is a bit on the nose for me.
I'm not quite sure what Schenk's big final reveal and plan was with Zeke's dad. I get that Zeke's dad was a corrupt cop. It makes sense that this new killer would want to torture him because he was a corrupt cop. That's the focus of the whole movie. But Schenk says that he made Zeke the center of the spiral (maybe I made that phrase up because it should have been used in the movie) because he wanted Zeke as a partner. I'm 90% sure that Zeke is playing along when he says that he'll help Schenk in the future, but let's pretend that he was dead serious. I mean, that's why Schenk is doing all this. It's why he offers Zeke a way out. After all, Schenk shouldn't hate Zeke. Zeke is the example of what police officers should be compared to what they are. He's the inspiration for Schenk. Do you think hanging up Zeke's dad is going to be the thing that brings him to your side? Also, it's a test to see if Zeke is really on your side? But the game that he gives Zeke is a one-bullet save-your-dad-or-kill-me scenario. Where is the partnership on that thing? How is that a loyalty thing? Both answers imply that Zeke is still trying to arrest Schenk?
Now that I'm thinking about it, why Jigsaw? I get that there's the hidden figure who is killing corrupt cops. I like that he's using the masks and the pig heads are on brand. But the games make almost no sense. Jigsaw used games to make people appreciate their lives. (That is still something I still don't understand, but I can shut my brain off enough to say, "Whatever".) Schenk doesn't want them to escape. Often, his games (which was similar to the traps in the later Saw movies) were based on word play. For example, "Or will you throw away the key" meaning that the key was in the trash can the entire time. The guy was dead pretty quickly. I'm wildly confused about the fingers being ripped off. He lost his fingers AND he got electrocuted. Why go through all of that work? The point was to send body parts by courier to the cops. It seems like a lot of work and technical knowhow to do all that. You could have tortured them in really banal ways and then sent the stuff in the mail. Having a secret degree in mechanical engineering isn't necessary to be a scary serial killer.
Oh my goodness, I can't believe I didn't take two seconds to write about this. I actually hit publish. Hopefully, I get this in before anyone actually reads this. (Guaranteed. No one reads these things.) How can I ignore that this is political as heck and I love it. I'm doing a professional development Masterclass taught by David Mamet about drama. One of his first lessons, which rubbed me the wrong way (but Mamet is smarter than I am, so take that into consideration), is the fact that drama shouldn't be made to be political. That's a pretty privileged statement. Do I think that Spiral: From the Book of Saw, the ninth movie in the franchise, is political. Absolutely. Do I think it is as political as some of the articles I read on the movie believe it to be? No. I do think that the ending, of police bursting in and killing a Black man who is strung up to the wall is saying something. I do think that there's commentary on the Thin Blue Line in the movie. But Zeke is our avatar. I may not be Black, but as the protagonist, Zeke's philosophy is what we should be. He fights corruption where he can and bears the weight of an oppressive system on his back. But Schenk's work is appalling to us; it is appalling to him. Again, Spiral isn't a great work of art. But it started with a political statement and then made entertainment out of it. It proves that you can do both. Also, Glengarry Glen Ross is anti-Capitalist as the day is long.
Regardless, I applaud this for being the first Saw movie that was fun. Chris Rock was right. There's no reason that these movies shouldn't be fun. Yeah, there's still gross out stuff. But the most upsetting part about the format of these movies that people only smiled in Saw movies because the creativity of the manslaughter. Instead, I enjoyed Zeke being a person. I enjoyed that the comedy led to characterization. Some of it was hamfisted, sure. But that goes a long way to making a movie watchable.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.