To be a fly on the wall of the meeting that led to the creation of this movie.
Chris Rock – y’know, the guy whose own solid projects get overshadowed by his presence in Adam Sandler movies, the guy that to me has always been connected to his frank and often hilarious stand-up routines about being black in America and in Hollywood, that Chris Rock. This guy comes into a Hollywood meeting to say “hey guys, I’ve got an idea for a Saw movie.” You remember Saw, right? The biggest horror franchise of the first decade of this century that started off silly and brilliant, then got sillier and less brilliant. Come for the traps and stay for a one-scene Tobin Bell cameo as Jigsaw. All of which culminated in Jigsaw, released a few years ago to a shrug from audiences and bad reviews from critics exhausted with attempts to keep this franchise alive. Jigsaw failed because it reheated all of the old tricks without adding anything new to the franchise. But Spiral, at least, has…Chris Rock in it?
As much as I jest, Spiral really wouldn’t work at all without Rock at its centre. Here, he plays the last honest cop in a precinct as corrupted as a politician-vs-mafia poker game. Thanks to being the only good guy left, he has been rewarded with hatred from his colleagues and admiration from a new killer that gets off on using Saw iconography to go on a killing spree. This killer exclusively targets cops at this central precinct, dolling out ironic punishment using the franchises famous traps to make their point. Shooting this story from an almost entirely procedural perspective brings a different edge to the story, giving it a sub-Zodiac flavour instead of a sub-Se7en one this time around.
Spiral isn’t a particularly good movie; what Saw movie (apart from the first two) is, after all, but it is good for a movie of this franchise. Chris is Rock at his charismatic and confrontational best, a very nice change from the smarmy evil of Hoffman, the anger of Strahm, and the empty suits that constitute the police force in this universe.
Rock and the traps are what we are here for and it is in these points that Spiral delivers. I won’t spoil the traps, but I thought they were more creative and visually striking than anything in Jigsaw; returning director for the franchise, Darren Lynn Bousman, has clearly been pondering on what makes for the most compelling and twisted traps, and these pun-tastic inventions are gleefully stupid and brilliant in equal measure. Chris Rock is a sharp, witty presence here, and Bousman allows for these long takes of just Rock bouncing off his co-stars, the focus on sparky dialogue something new for the series as a whole. In fact, if Spiral is anything, it’s a chance to show off how much he’s grown as a director, with this handsome, expensive-looking piece serving as an interesting contrast to his grungy, shoestring first outing for the franchise in Saw II.
At the end of the day, Spiral’s saving grace is that it is miles better than its predecessor, Jigsaw. It’s less convoluted than previous sequels, and it fully steps out of the shadow of John Kramer to give itself a semblance of its own identity. It’s not brilliant, but this is Saw, we already knew that would be the case – and this particular case provides some pleasantly new territory for the franchise to tread.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via New York Times).