With Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck back together for the first time since 2004, the occult powers ruling Hollywood brought back something awful from 17 years ago to balance the scales. That’s the totally real reason why there’s another Saw movie hitting theaters. The story they’re telling everyone is that Chris Rock ran into the vice chairman of Lionsgate at a wedding and pitched him a good idea for a Saw reboot, but we all know how ridiculous that sounds. Only out-of-touch occult powers would come up with a title like Spiral: From the Book of Saw.
In all fairness, the original Saw isn’t that bad. It’s a decent, low-budget horror film that relies on mystery and tension as much as it does on gore. It did, however, help inspire a genre that would later be dubbed “torture porn”: movies that revel in sadistic violence as their main selling point, like Hostel, The Human Centipede, and most of Saw’s seven sequels. The Jigsaw killer’s whole shtick was that survivors of his traps would gain a new lease on life, leaving their bad habits behind—but it became harder to take that “message” seriously as the Saw franchise devolved into modern-day Colosseum games, tossing chunks of flesh to hungry audiences (sometimes in 3D!). Spiral is supposed to be something of a course correction.
Spiral’s story is pared down in contrast to the other sequels, which grasped at straws to explain how the Jigsaw killings continued after Jigsaw died in Saw III. It’s straightforward now: a Jigsaw copycat is on the loose and they’re targeting cops as revenge for the precinct’s history of police brutality. In the Jigsaw tradition of gamifying their murder sprees, the killer sends clues to Detective Ezekiel Banks (Chris Rock), who’s disrespected by the rest of his department because he ratted out a dirty cop. Screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger don’t seem convinced by the simplicity of their story, though, so you can expect characters to shout their backstories at each other like they’re recovering amnesiacs. Come to think of it, amnesiacs might be the intended audience for this thing: twenty minutes in, there’s a flashback to a scene of shameless exposition that happened ten minutes ago, just in case you weren’t listening, I guess?
It’s a fair assumption; there are plenty of reasons to stop listening. I don’t know why anyone thought it was a good idea to explore police brutality via torture porn movie, especially during a worldwide reckoning with the very system of policing. There must’ve been some pretty strong drinks at that wedding where the future of the Saw franchise was hashed out (or, uh, excuse me, pretty strong potions at the Hollywood occult ritual). In the world of Spiral, there are bad cops—the ones who gun down innocent people in cold blood—and there are good, Chris Rock-type cops, who burst into people’s homes without a warrant and torture them for information. The movie isn’t an indictment of police brutality; it’s a deranged person’s idea of how much police brutality is acceptable. What more could we expect from the writers of Dane Cook comedy Good Luck Chuck and terrible slasher remake Sorority Row? Spiral is just as casually misogynistic as those movies too. There’s no floor on bad taste.
Visually, Spiral is your run-of-the-mill Saw sequel, with the muddy color grading and fast cutting you’d expect (plus a red sheen on the outside scenes and mentions of a heat wave, which better not be a reference to Do the Right Thing. Spiral doesn’t deserve that.) Oddly enough, Saw’s most infamous eye candy—the mechanical ingenuity of the traps and the mangled bodies inside them—is comparatively tame here. It’ll make you squirm if you’re squeamish, but fans of the series will leave with bloodthirst unquenched. If you can’t even go big with the exploitation, what’s left to enjoy?
Maybe the good stuff was saved for the sequel, Saw X or Spiral: Further Down or whatever. Like the recent Mortal Kombat reboot, Spiral is one of those Hollywood concoctions that completely forgoes an ending. It sets up a sequel and then just… stops. “Sets up” might actually be too charitable—it cuts off midway through the third act with a “pay for the rest next year!”, basically. And even that’s not as pathetic as the movie’s attempt at a plot twist. I dare you not to see it coming. This is boring, predictable, gross trash. And it’s not even the fun kind of gross.