For me, there’s always a degree of trepidation and excitement when heading into the latest Saw film – a horror franchise which I thoroughly enjoy as guilty pleasures – because the odds are stacked against it to not screw up or let me down. But Spiral surpassed my expectations. The gore took a backseat to the mystery for most of the film, and it consistently had me intrigued and held my attention, making us ask the same old questions as the mutilated bodies crop up: Who is doing this? And why?
Those familiar with the series will know there’s a puzzle to solve with many pieces (usually in the form of flashbacks) thrown their way in a short time period, plus the fact the writers will attempt to pull the rug out from under you or do some misdirection. If you see it coming, it’s easy to avoid, so for me the killer’s reveal was predictable. However, their motivations and methodology hark back to the time of John Kramer, and I liked how everything came together in the end.
Chris Rock makes for an interesting lead, bulldozing his way around as lead investigator on the case and not looking to make friends, but it becomes quite easy to sympathise with him soon enough as the pressure mounts, while Samuel L. Jackson gets to swear and quip like in his Tarantino days. There are no returning faces from previous films, so anyone expecting a real shock will be disappointed, but I was fine with that – the story didn’t need it, so don’t force it.
Perhaps uncommon in a Saw fan, but I actually come for a compelling story and the traps merely serve that narrative being told. The series is known for having a convoluted mythology that deepens with each instalment, but if you’ve seen the films as much as me, then you’ll have an encyclopedic knowledge to aid your viewing pleasure. That isn’t really required this time around. It’s part of the Saw canon but not a direct sequel to the last one. But back to the traps… Spiral definitely ensures gorehounds are satisfied too. Complex contraptions have evolved since the early days of Jigsaw’s work, and those caught in them still have to make a horrible sacrifice (self-mutilation) to escape. And I like that that sacrifice is tied to their personal corruption in some way – whether it’s a tongue or fingers – to make the “game” more relevant.
We have a new puppet and a new voice to get used to, which makes sense, though no one can explain the “live or die” game quite like Tobin Bell could with that raspy, controlled tone to eerie effect. However, composer Charlie Clouser – who has been ever-present since the original – proves he hasn’t lost his touch, delivering the usual grungy hardcore riffs that are background noise to victims frantically fumbling in their restraints, as well as the memorable theme music that is always heard during the neatly edited twist endings.
Overall, Spiral is a welcome return to form and an improvement from Jigsaw. The mystery kept me engaged throughout even when I guessed the culprit early, the traps were well-designed and brutal, and the direction from Darren Lynn Bousman made everything feel like the film belonged in the long-running franchise – it still has that classic Saw DNA. Won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I enjoyed this.