SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW Review–Classic Horror Franchise Reimagined for a New Era

Spiral: From the Book of Saw written by Josh Stolberg, Pete Goldfinger

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

Starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, and Max Minghella

Plenty of police officers have gotten trapped in Jigsaw’s web over the years, but the moralistic killer and his disciples never targeted cops exclusively–until now. Spiral: From the Book of Saw marks both the triumphant return of a classic horror franchise spawned in the early 2000s and a reimagination of Saw mythology perfectly tailored for the 2020s.

Saw is one of the films that helped coin the term “torture porn”. A reaction to the collective trauma of the 9/11 attacks (and the barrage of unfiltered images we were subjected to on the news that day), the subgenre reflects a desensitized populous and the need to push horror to its extremes in order to elicit a proper reaction. It was both an exercise in depravity, a testament to a violent era, and a test of endurance. But rather than continuing the tradition of merely pushing limits, Spiral: From the Book of Saw has something to say.

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The pig mask is a carry-over from past Saw films, but it takes on a whole new meaning in Spiral. This time, it’s clearly a means of insulting police officers, which this film’s killer targets exclusively. Gone is Billy, the tricycle-riding puppet with black hair and white skin. In his place, we have Porky (at least that’s what I call him), a more traditional puppet that further enforces the pig motif. A pig dressed as a trigger-happy police officer, Porky’s strings are visible–and this is important. It represents the fact that someone else is in control. In other words, even a bad cop is being maneuvered (or empowered) by someone worse.

Chris Rock plays Det. Zeke Banks. He’s a good cop; the kind of cop you’d want on your side; a brave individual with the courage to stand up against corruption–even in his own department. He’s a character many Americans have been hoping to meet in real life. Policing and police brutality have gone under the microscope in recent years. And while strides are being made to reform systematic failures in policing, there’s still (for the most part) a “Blue Curtain”, a code of silence among the ranks of law enforcement when it comes to holding their own accountable. Zeke Banks isn’t just the hero of Spiral; he’s the kind of hero society genuinely needs right now.

Part of what makes Spiral so impactful is that the killer has the same motivations as Zeke, albeit with much different methods. Whereas one is a renegade working from within, the other is an outsider–and a psychopath. But both are hoping to clean up the police department, an organization that’s run amock under Article 8, a piece of legislation that gave cops carte blanche to clean up the streets by any means necessary. Whether by design or coincidence, Spiral perfectly reflects society’s current shift away from repressive police tactics and a corrupt justice system.

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Spiral: From the Book of Saw sports some of the best, messiest, and most menacing traps to date. The film earns its R-rating, clearly pushing the MPAA to its limits. But like I already mentioned, Spiral is more than mere “torture porn” and more than just a police procedural. It’s about families: Families destroyed through police violence and divorce, and families struggling to stay connected. Samuel L. Jackson plays Rock’s father, former police chief Marcus Banks. The two have a strained relationship yet, throughout the film, they make efforts to reconnect. But there are things about the older Banks that the younger is unaware of, secrets that will be revealed in a gut-twisting climax.

Is it funny? Chris Rock is in it, so it has to be funny, right? Well, there’s no denying that Rock is funny. He’s got a comedian’s face–and I mean that as a total compliment. The guy realized comedy was a strength and took his skills to the bank as a young man. He’s built a career out of his unique look and scorching brand of humor. So yes, Spiral is sometimes funny (especially in a scene with Rock that mimics a shocking moment from the very first Saw), but this doesn’t represent a radical tonal shift for the franchise. At its core, the film is still hardcore and definitely not for the faint of heart.



Gritty, fresh, and ferocious, director Darren Lynn Bousman and star Chris Rock make Spiral something special. I’d love to see more with Bousman at the helm and Rock front and center. Spiral marks both the return of a classic horror franchise and the beginning of something new.

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