Spiral the film
Pic caption: Max Minghella (left) and Chris Rock (right) in SPIRAL from Lionsgate. (Photo credit: Brooke Palmer)

Owing more to David Fincher than James Wan, “Spiral: From the Book of SAW” is at its peak in between the gory scenes we’ve come to expect since the inception of the franchise in 2004. There are plenty of inventive new traps ripping appendages away to satisfy fans as Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) and his rookie partner Detective William Schenk (Max Minghella) race against the clock to stop a copycat Jigsaw serial killer. In the moments separating the blood and gore, director David Lynn Bousman crafts a solid thriller evocative of “Se7en” as a new chapter in the series begins.


Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisol Nichols, Daniel Petronijevic, Richard Zeppieri, Ali Johnson, Zoie Palmer, K.C. Collins, Edie Inksetter
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

The film opens on the Fourth of July as off-duty Detective “Boz” Bozwick (Daniel Petronijevic) is in hot pursuit of a purse snatcher at a local carnival who leads him down a shaft to the subway tunnels. Minutes later we witness the first grisly death involving a train and the tongue-tied officer who’s held captive in a “SAW”-like contraption. “Spiral” is being shown in select IMAX theaters, so, depending on your GTL (Gore Tolerance Level)— 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest — it’s either a “Yikes!” or a “Yes!” To figure out your GTL level, count how many seconds it takes you to look away.

Boz was a friend of Detective Zeke (Rock), maybe his only one, at a precinct where most of the police officers have turned against the Serpico-like investigator who once turned in a crooked cop. Even though the officer was dirty, the squad feels betrayed, and this caused Zeke to get shot when no one responded to his plea for backup while on a case.

Samuel L. Jackson portrays Zeke’s father, retired Police Chief Marcus Bank, whose legacy casts a shadow over his son’s career. There are only a handful of times that Jackson shares the screen with Rock, those moments are golden, and it’s surprising how the two animated actors cancel each other out. Most of the father-son scenes are restrained unless there’s a traumatic event taking place as in the flashback where Marcus arrives at a crime scene to find his son with a bullet wound after no one showed up when the “officer needs assistance” call went out.

It becomes evident that a serial killer is on the loose whose method recalls long-dead serial killer John Kramer aka Jigsaw (the main antagonist of the horror franchise) after more crooked cops are targeted and killed in the same ghastly manner as the film’s first victim Boz.

When I was 16 my GTL was at a 10. I would freezeframe and rewind the goriest scenes in George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.” 40 years later, I’m about a 7. I can handle most gore but if it gets too crazy, I’m looking away. When director Darren Lynn Bousman walked away from the franchise in 2007 after helming “II,” “III,” and “IV,” he was 28. Now at 42, I believe he may have lost some of his mojo after I noticed that, while the gruesome scenes are still shocking, the camera pulls away before it reaches “Romero-mode” — this could also indicate that Bousman was avoiding an NC-17 rating.

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Rock is a welcomed addition to the franchise. There are a couple of scenes where a little more restraint would have elevated the moment, but I imagine it’s hard not to get hype when you’re caught up in the intensity of the moment, and you’re Chris Rock. He does deliver a funny monologue about “Forrest Gump” that fits nicely as a moment of levity and should he and this franchise continue I’d like to see more of Rock’s naturally funny side surface.

The supporting cast features a solid performance by Marisol Nichols (Hermione on “Riverdale”) as the hard-nosed Captain Angie Garza who is always yelling at the detectives in the spirit of the great Frank McRae (who we just lost last week at the age of 80) who played the angry police chief in “48 Hours” and “Last Action Hero.”

“Spiral” is the ninth installment in the “SAW” franchise written by Josh Stolberg & Peter Goldfinger who also penned 2017’s “Jigsaw.” The movie came about after Rock (a big fan of the “SAW” films) pitched the idea of a reboot to Lionsgate which got the ball rolling. There’s no way you can stop at 9, there has to be a 10, or as Nigel in “Spinal Tap” would say “11,” so I imagine this isn’t the last of the series we’ll see. Darren Lynn Bousman makes a welcomed return to the “SAW” world, balancing the gore with a decent thriller.

(3 stars)

Opens Thursday, May 13 in theaters

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Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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