In 2004, the genre film world of horror movies was crowded with depictions of the walking dead and seeing tremendous influence from Asia with long-haired ghosts frightening audiences in theaters and on home video. In October 2004, a film called Saw changed the scary movie landscape. It turned a low-budget, ultra-gory film about a murderer named Jigsaw who creates grotesque games of life or death into a horror tentpole, now one of the genres defining franchises.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw continues the deranged work of Jigsaw, this time taking torturous focus on a corrupt police department in a sweltering big city dripping in detective story color palettes. Chris Rock, who may seem an odd choice for this franchise, has a significant screen presence throughout this familiar franchise exercise.
Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) is a detective who his fellow law enforcers have rejected after turning in a crooked cop. A dead rat in a trap, left on his desk, describes how respected Zeke is amongst his peers on the force. Rookie detective William Schenk (Max Minghella) is forcefully paired as Zeke's new partner. The first case for the new teammates involves the gruesome death of a fellow officer, one of the few in the department that Zeke called a friend. The officer's death, involving a subway train and a trap placed directly on the tongue, echoes a resemblance to John Kramer, the mastermind behind the infamous Jigsaw murders. Zeke and William become intertwined in a new game with new stakes involving a corrupt law enforcement department.
Spiral begins unlike no other Saw film in the franchise, with a hefty dose of humor brought by an entertaining Chris Rock telling a story about how Forrest Gump couldn't be made in present times. Rock, a seasoned comedy icon, injects personality and presence throughout the entire film. Rock's dramatic turns struggle to come off as smoothly during moments of despair or frustration. However, underneath the messy detective shirt and ties and dark sunglasses, the actor's laid-back demeanor and coolness help make the clichéd detective story twist and turns to play out with more intrigue. Samuel L. Jackson shows up briefly as Zeke's dad, the former police chief, and their chemistry offers some of the best moments of the entire film.
Spiral starts with some exciting narrative angles, social commentary about police concerns brought to the forefront, and an investigation-driven procedure that steps away from the splatter spectacle that defines the Saw franchise. These bright moments fade as Spiral: From the Book of Saw reverts to the franchise formula of retreaded plot twists and pig-masked trappings that are easily identified.
Still, this is a memorable return and easily one of the best Saw films of recent memory. Chris Rock's screen presence keeps the one-dimensional story engaging. While the horror, the visceral and gory exhibition, of this franchise, part nine, remains the primary connective tissue that supports the puzzle from completely falling apart.
Movie Score: 3/5