Spiral: From the Book of Saw is released in cinemas nationwide from 17th May 2021
Saw has a complicated legacy. What began as a morally provocative thriller with a captivating antagonist eventually gave way to gratuitous torture porn, completely shed of its mystery and thought-provoking origins. Continuously returning to the events of prior instalments and revealing an alternate perspective led to stagnation and an overly complicated narrative that was weaved through the Saw franchise like a barbed-wire thread. Eventually, The Spierig Brothers would attempt to reanimate the franchise with Jigsaw in 2017. However, they would ultimately repeat the same mistakes that surrounded the previous entries. And It, therefore, seemed that Saw had played its final game.
Enter Darren Lynn Bousman and Chris Rock.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is immediately different from its predecessors because of No Tobin Bell, No Billy the Puppet, and No Returning Characters. These three aspects were the shackles that the Saw series had been imprisoned with for the longest time, and finally, it had some freedom to develop itself and distance itself from what had come before. Bousman is known for directing Saws II to IV and understands the box of tricks and tropes the series continually pulled from – in an interview with Discussing Film; he stated
“I wanted to have the look and sonic landscape be different … The Saw movies have been so vicious and have had that palpable sense of dread from the very beginning. I wanted to try and open the scope, make it a little more fun.”
This is exactly what Saw needed, and Bousman and Rock were the perfect pair to help reinvigorate the franchise.
Spiral changes the look and the world of Saw but keeps the mythos alive and well – as usual, we’re treated to a fantastic opening scene that tells us everything we need to know about Bousman’s take. A bombastic set-piece that’s built around a brutally simplistic trap that feels like a return to the lo-fi nature of the original.
The traps throughout Spiral feel possible to escape from, unlike some of the franchise’s later entries, many of which seemed downright impossible not only to escape from but in construction and set-up. For example, the downtown square trap in Saw: The Final Chapter. This realism provides a rich authenticity to the Spiral killer and Bousman’s world; time and effort put into the consideration and dynamics of the traps themselves, with Bousman mentioning his questionable extensive search history into different macabre torture methods and deaths as key research in interviews. Although the traps are stripped back and streamlined for simplicity, they are not, for a second, any less disturbing. In fact, they’re still a downright disgusting and nauseating watch, in the best of ways.
However, what is really refreshing is Bousman’s cinematography, extended oners, creative framing, and vibrant colours giving way to the most gorgeously gruesome entry yet. Here, Bousman provides us with a macabre feast for the eyes as we feel the blistering heat of the sun soak into the frames across the city. The gothic malevolent red rays lighting up industrial hallways and warehouses, beckoning the oncoming danger that our unlucky participants are about to face.
Saw has had a filthy and degraded aesthetic throughout the years, with heavy greens and massive contrasts in light-and-dark often overpowering any other elements, creating this consistently grungy appearance. That might’ve worked for the original, but having it repeated over and over again became nothing more than a visual chore. It’s so good to see that Bousman not only shed that aesthetic but challenged himself to find new ways of keeping that grungy tone alive whilst imbuing a new creative flair into his work.
Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger’s script provides a gripping relationship between Officer Zeke (Chris Rock) and the Spiral Killer. Both seek to eliminate institutional corruption within the police; however, one will go to a far greater limit than the other.
Having both your protagonist and antagonist as two sides of the same coin is a captivating dynamic that we haven’t seen before in Saw and a joy to watch. In many ways, this relationship holds shades of the John Doe/David Mills relationship in Se7en. Zeke is possibly one of the most intelligent protagonists the franchise has ever had, as he deciphers and decodes the tongue-in-cheek wordplay that both Jigsaw and the Spiral Killer adopt. His actions correcting the fact that many previous characters in the series have ignored or forgotten that the whole thing is meant to be a game. There are some great hints peppered throughout the script to the Spiral Killer’s true identity that really reinforce that feeling of the original mystery Saw had, as though we’re detectives alongside Zeke.
Although some of the beats are a tad predictable, considering the odds that were stacked against Spiral in reviving an immensely complicated franchise with an extended cavalcade of characters alongside a creative ingenuity to a series of practical traps – it’s still impressive that Spiral is as engaging and compelling as it is. It’s a murderously marvellous return to form and a brutally beautiful reinvigoration of the franchise.
Watch Spiral: From the Book of Saw on the big screen