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Review: ‘Spiral: From the Book of Saw’ (2021): Chris Rock, We Were Rooting for You!

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Review: 'Spiral: From the Book of Saw' (2021): Chris Rock, We Were Rooting for You!

I’m late to the game on this Spiral review. I was early to the screening, though. I was one of three people in my opening weekend auditorium that was early enough to see the pre-previews. You know, those things that play before the trailers. Sometimes, you’re lucky and you get movie trivia. “Which Friends alum starred in films with Bruce Willis?” That kind of thing. Well, my fellow theatergoers and I weren’t so lucky. Instead of getting to yell “Matthew Perry!” at the screen, we were instead subjected to a bunch of corporations congratulating themselves for handling the pandemic so well. “We’re all in this together.” Now that we’re back in theaters, or allowed to be anyway, the “norm” I’m most excited about is just forgetting the whole thing ever happened. Mask, no mask, vaccinated or not; I’m excited to carry on without being reminded every 30 seconds that Coca-Cola suffered loss during the pandemic, too. Sure, our grandparents died, but the biggest loss was profit. Never forget!

Ok. So, the major reason I’m late writing this is that I was very disappointed in this movie. I felt like Tyra Banks in that moment from America’s Next Top Model that has become somewhat of a meme. She’s furious, shouting at a contestant “I was rooting for you! We were ALL ROOTING FOR YOU!” That’s exactly what I felt. I was really advocating for this last entry in the Saw franchise. I wrote about my excitement for this movie. In my personal life, I was constantly going to battle for the idea of a Chris Rock-led Saw. Naysayers seemingly surrounded me, but I stood resolute. “It’s Rock’s idea! He pitched the whole thing to Lionsgate!”

I’m a big fan of comedy, and I’m a big fan of Chris Rock’s comedy. I am not a big fan of Chris Rock’s comedy as dialogue in a Saw movie. A large portion of the movie’s dialogue is “bits as throwaway lines.” Instead of taking the time to write dialogue that might propel the plot or shade the characters, the writers instead opted to use jokes. It’s glaringly clear, especially in his first scene. Instead of Chris Rock workshopping new material in clubs or smaller comedy venues, he’s here, in a cop costume, delivering punchlines as if they were off-the-cuff things his character would say.

Spiral From the Book of Saw Rock

A lot of this movie feels like it’s in a cop costume. It uses the idea of police work as a plot device, refusing, really, to meaningfully engage with any of the uber-topical problems Americans face every day because of cops. Spoiler Alert: This movie is about police corruption. But instead of doing anything to seriously discuss or illustrate the SYSTEMIC issues of American policing, Spiral instead shows us that old “a few bad apples” argument. Instead of exploring the corruption that encompasses the entirety of police work, the movie instead positions the main cop as a hero.

This is an American movie in 2021. We do not need a hero cop.

My biggest issue with this movie is its tenuous relationship with the rest of the series. Again, Spiral fails to engage with any of it in a meaningful way. There is absolutely nothing that connects our killer here to Jigsaw in the other Saw movies. There’s no inspiration. There’s no moment where it all makes sense. He’s a different guy, with a different problem, who steals outright from Jigsaw’s legacy. It could’ve been ANY serial killer, really. Our bad guy here in Spiral could’ve been inspired by Dahmer, and all we’d have to change is the title. He could’ve even been a guy in our world who just kinda liked Saw movies. That’s how it feels.

I want to be clear that I am not asking for “fan service” here. I like The Force Awakens as much as the next guy, but I’m not desperate for more Saw Easter Eggs. That’s not my problem. The issue, here, is the shallow connection between this movie and the other eight preceding movies. Our bad guy shares none of the motives, none of the worldview and none of the visual flair of anybody already in that Jigsaw world.

There’s really not any good reason that this needs to be a Saw movie.

Spiral From the Book of Saw Samuel L. Jackson

I might even like Spiral better if it was a standalone, straight-to-HBO Max thriller. Instead, it’s dressed up like a horror blockbuster. If this would’ve quietly existed as a different movie with a different name, it’s misgivings would’ve been forgivable. Instead, it misses the marks for me. The disappointing way that it dons the legacy of the Saw franchise completely distracts from its story.

Look, the story and its twists are still dumb, but if it wasn’t called Saw, I wouldn’t have bought a ticket to see it. I would’ve seen it for free at home, and it would’ve been forgettable. I would’ve spent its runtime half-watching, scrolling on my phone. It would’ve been fine. Instead, it’s unforgivable.

I waited to write this, and by now, the movie’s probably not even relevant anymore. It probably already slipped out of conversation. That’s fine. I never want something I write to be influenced by whatever the zeitgeist decides. I took some time to really concentrate on what I disliked about Spiral. Primarily, I was pissed about how it failed to add anything to Saw’s legacy. I was expecting a new, gnarled branch growing out of the franchise, instead Spiral feels like a different tree entirely. That’s mostly my fault, I know that my expectations set the movie up for failure. I didn’t have particularly high expectations, but I had Saw expectations.

As a return to horror in theaters, Spiral: From the Book of Saw was underwhelming.

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