From the Book of Saw ‘is solid so unspectacular – Times-Standard
Certainly, I am making this assessment with something close to real confidence.
A few years ago, I watched the 2004 hit psychological horror film “Saw”. While I didn’t think it was really wrong, I can’t say that I in any way enjoyed the case characterized by unpleasant choices – involving hacksaws or the like – offered by the Jigsaw Killer to his. victims.
I may have seen bloody fragments from the seven films that followed – the most recent of which is ‘Jigsaw’ from 2017 – but I can’t swear it.
For the past few days, leading up to an advanced look at the new theatrical-intended film “Spiral: From the Book of Saw”, watching YouTube videos on the overall “Saw” timeline has reminded me of just how twisted, squirms – inducing the rate of the franchise is simply not my bag.
Fish hooks? Razor wire? Reverse bear traps?
Yeah, no thanks.
Having said that, I did enjoy “Spiral” somewhat, which plays more like a typical cop thriller in which the cops try to catch a horrible killer than at least what I imagine to be a “Saw” movie.
Oh, don’t worry, “Saw” fans: There is a generous share of horrific storylines – a victim must choose between losing their fingers or being electrocuted. However, at its heart, “Spiral” is a crime thriller film.
This brings us to the power lure of the movie stars. Comedian-actor Chris Rock portrays the lead detective on the case, Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks, while Samuel L. Jackson plays his father, retired Police Chief Marcus Banks. Sadly, the two only share a few scenes, but they still give “Spiral” a real punch.
Zeke isn’t exactly Mr. Popular around the South Metro Police Station led by a captain, Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols of “Riverdale”), who served under his father and is one of Zeke’s few allies. See, over ten years ago Zeke testified against a dirty cop, and he’s been paying the price for his work ever since.
Even though he needs friends, he’s not exactly thrilled when Angie assigns him a new partner, green William Schenk (Max Minghella), whom he promises to disappoint.
The couple are sent to a subway tunnel, where a homeless man is believed to have been killed by a train. However, we do know from the stressful opening portion of the movie that the victim was a cop, lured into the tunnel and presented with a tough choice by a puzzle-like character. (As “Saw” fans know, the real puzzle – Tobin Bell’s John Kramer – is long dead at this point.)
This new killer is there to punish some cops – he wears a pig mask and generously uses pigs in his murder aesthetic – and he sends horrific clues to Zeke in gift boxes.
Zeke addresses William quickly enough, offering the happy, married young man all his thoughts on the signs that a woman might cheat on her husband. (He just found out pilates isn’t even a real thing, jokes Zeke, Rock really sells the line.)
Zeke also leans on his father, with whom he has a difficult relationship thanks to the time Zeke worked with him.
Working from a screenplay by John Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger’s “Jigsaw” tandem, director Darren Lynn Bousman returns to the series after directing “Saw II”, “Saw III” and “Saw IV” in the mid-2000s. It keeps the affair for about 90 minutes, torturing the characters on a regular basis, until a climactic streak that, like the movie itself, is slightly interesting but fails to rise above it.
And while “Spiral” benefits from Rock’s great presence – which was surprisingly underwhelming in the final season of the acclaimed FX drama “Fargo” – its presence is sometimes too prominent. As Angry Zeke, Rock spends a lot of time at level 10, while some scenes would have been better served with him at nine, if not eight.
On the other hand, Minghella, better known for having played Nick on Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”, is an asset to the “Spiral” with a more subtle performance.
It’s good that “Spiral” has a bit of fun with itself. Zeke makes an open reference to “New Jack City” from 1991, in which he featured prominently. And, aside from Rock’s character name, there’s at least one Easter Egg pointing to 1994’s “Pulp Fiction”, which made Jackson a star.
To back up my assessment of how this film compares to its predecessors, Rock – a huge fan of horror and the “Saw” series, who serves as executive producer on the film – says the idea was to focus about characters and a story that will remain people guessing.
“That’s why I really don’t consider ‘Spiral’ to be the next ‘Saw’ movie,” he says. “We’re actually just starting over and heading in a whole different direction with this movie.”
Sure, but a tenth “Saw” movie is in development. Can we really expect the landmark series entry to NOT build on the franchise’s hacksaw roots?
“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” is rated R for sequences of macabre bloody violence and torture, ubiquitous language, some sexual references, and brief drug use. Duration: 1 hour, 33 minutes.