‘Spiral: From the Book of Saw’ is Sorely Disappointing

Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) is a detective who plays by his own rules, which often gets him in trouble, especially after he busts a colleague for shooting a witness. Suddenly a spate of brutal murders leads him to suspect that there’s a Jigsaw copycat out there–and the killer is targeting his fellow officers.

I was really excited to see this movie. I love the Saw franchise, and I was thrilled to see that Darren Lynn Bousman, who did Saw II, III, and IV, returned to direct. I’ve been a fan of Chris Rock since he was on Saturday Night Live in the ’90s. That is about all the positive things I have to say, unfortunately. I was eager to give Rock a chance as a horror movie writer/producer (he came up with the story behind the film and had extensive input during the filmmaking). I had faith in his ability as a dramatic actor. While his angry outbursts and steely resolve (see above–dayum) are impressive, his reactions when he should be shocked or grieving are not so great; his range includes bemused, constipated, and trying to read the eye test at the DMV.

The movie plays out like a comedy, in many ways. Zeke’s dialogue has an awful lot of elements of Rock’s stand-up. He spends more time making observations than solving crimes, like this non-sequitur about Forrest Gump, which is our introduction to his character: “This motherfucker did some shit. He jogged across the whole country. He beat China in ping pong. You know how fucking hard that shit is? He was a war hero. Who the fuck is nicer than Forrest Gump?” (This actually goes on for a couple more minutes.) Then there’s Samuel L. Jackson as Zeke’s father Marcus, who pops up to scream “motherfucker” and then disappear for a while. And among the multiple law enforcement movie cliches utilized, there’s the cop-who-doesn’t-want-a-partner buddy film pairing of Zeke and newbie Schenk (Max Minghella). (But don’t worry, they drop it pretty much immediately.) And the flashback scenes that show Zeke and Marcus sporting ridiculous facial hair to establish it’s the past can’t help but invoke in my mind National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1:

In addition, the police are all as inept as they are corrupt. They repeatedly handle evidence without gloves and go off to remote places alone even after they know they’re being targeted by a serial killer.

“I dare you to poke the corpse!”

Rock has always been outspoken about racism, and you can in part read the film as a critique of police brutality and the demoralization that power can bring. One Black character’s trap involves being suspended by wires and Swatted. He is physically unable to lower his arm or drop a gun he’s forced to hold, and is shot in quick succession by the SWAT team, despite the fact that he’s suspended in the air. There’s also a scene when a cop point-blank shoots a guy for flipping him off. As the killer muses bitterly: “That’s what cops do: shoot first, ask questions later.” However, there’s also a part when Zeke, who’s flawed but unquestionably the hero of the movie, casually tortures a guy he needs information from. This fellow has a bone poking out of his leg, and Zeke pours alcohol on it and whacks him with the bottle. The man is not a sympathetic character, he’s a drug dealer who received the injury after shooting at them, but the scene is played for laughs, with Zeke joyfully yelling “That leg is fucked up! Yo, yo, yo, yo, let me get a shot for the Gram [continues taunting while taking a selfie] Can I tag you, motherfucker?” And then there’s the use of the n-word. Not by racist characters to make a point, but by Zeke and Marcus for no discernible reason. Zeke calls out a guy for hurriedly leaving the bathroom: “N*****, wash your hands!”

“I have had it with these motherfucking serial killers in this motherfucking warehouse! Motherfucker!”

The subtitle Book of Saw should indicate that the film isn’t directly connected to the other Saw movies. The killer is a copycat who didn’t personally know Jigsaw or his disciples. They wear a pig mask (but not a cool one) and use a wholly unappealing reedy voice (unlike Jigsaw’s noble baritone). Basically it’s a series of gory deaths based on lazy puns like pulling off a dude’s fingers for figuratively pointing fingers at people.

Bleh even the marionette is a pun!

Am I sorry I saw it? No. I very rarely say a movie has no redeeming value whatsoever. As much as I griped, it’s definitely more watchable than Jigsaw. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something that’s terrifically bloody but also tries desperately to be funny.

Published by GhoulieJoe

I wuvs the horror movies and like to write snarky reviews about them. I also included some pretentious as hell microfiction (don't worry, it's at the bottom).

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