2017’s Jigsaw was Lionsgate’s last attempt to revive the Saw brand. If you had told me back then that Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson were going to star in the next movie, I would have laughed in your face and then walked away quietly wishing that Lionsgate would be so bold as to pursue such big names for the eighth installment of their long-running and seemingly worn out slasher series. Even after seeing for myself the aforementioned power couple in Spiral: From the Book of Saw four years later, I’m still not completely convinced that this isn’t all some sort of prolonged fever dream brought on by a coma. But I digress…

Needless to say, this was the most excited and curious I have ever been heading into a theater to check out the new Saw movie. As soon as the picture smashed to black and the house lights flashed on, I was immediately hit with an adequately whelming realization: even the very best Saw film in a long time is still just a Saw film.

If you have seen a Saw movie before, then you know how this goes. If you haven’t seen one of these movies before, don’t worry because you probably know how this goes anyway. A veteran homicide detective and his plucky new partner must investigate a string of grizzly murders in order to track down and stop a mysterious murderer before they can claim more lives. Rock takes center stage as Detective Ezekiel Banks, who’s reluctantly partnered with Max Minghella’s Detective William Schenk. The two sleuths soon realize that they’re dealing with yet another Jigsaw Killer copycat whose victims this go-round all seem to be crooked cops with histories of abusing their badge. Sam Jackson makes a couple of appearances as Chief Marcus Banks, Zeke’s father and the former head of the very precinct where Zeke is employed.

Spiral: From the book of Saw wants to amass new buzz for the franchise not only by casting huge stars, but also by shifting the narrative focus away from the killer and his victims and onto the cops trying to solve the case. Lionsgate is obviously going for that Se7en comp. It’s unfortunate then that the script doesn’t flesh out any sort of meaningful relationship between the two lead characters. In David Fincher’s film, Brad Pitt’s and Morgan Freeman’s partnership is rife with tension as well as admiration. They generally can’t stand each other, yet come to respect one another by the end. The dynamics of their complicated bond allow the audience to identify with and ultimately invest in these individuals. Spiral, despite its best efforts to imitate Se7en down to its grimy aesthetics, failed to elicit much of an emotional response from me when revealing the fates of any of its characters.

The mystery driving the film similarly falls flat. Firstly, it turns out that I had guessed right the climactic third act reveal after watching the first trailer for this film. What’s more is that Spiral: From the Book of Saw isn’t interested in laying out a “fair” and compelling mystery for its detectives and even its audience to unravel. Instead, this Jigsaw Killer simply mails all the crucial clues directly to Detective Banks at his desk at the station. One after the other, after the other, after the other, right on up to the location of the final faceoff. You don’t need to be a detective to piece this puzzle together.

While it doesn’t succeed as a cop procedural, Spiral does manage to pull off being a mildly entertaining Saw sequel. The traps laid out by the killer this time around are much more scaled back and seemingly tie in to the theme of each slaying. It’s worth nothing that the executions this time around are more gruesome than they have been in a while. Let’s just say that I haven’t actually squirmed watching somebody suffer at the metaphorical hands of Jigsaw until now. As a lead character in a Saw movie, Rock’s Zeke is definitely the most fun to hang around with. Plenty of screen time is dedicated to his rattling off what must be some discarded standup material from an old Netflix special or something. Not that it matters much, because I shared in some pretty hardy chuckles throughout the runtime, even if Rock’s acting chops don’t quite hold up during some of the more dramatic material.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman from a screenplay by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger. The film runs an hour and thirty-three minutes and is Rated R for Grisly Bloody Violence|Brief Drug Use|Pervasive Language|Some Sexual References|Torture. Lionsgate is the distributor. See it everywhere nationwide beginning May 14, 2021.

Those are my thoughts on Spiral: From the Book of Saw! What did you make of the film? Do your feelings align with mine? Or did the movie hit you in a different way? Sound off in the comments below and let me and the rest of the movie loving world know your thoughts!

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