Spiral: From the Book of Saw (3 stars)

Spiral: From the Book of Saw

The ninth film in the Saw franchise benefits from a classier cast, including Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson

You'd be forgiven for having lost track of how many Saw films we are on now (it's nine), with the success of 2017's Jigsaw reinvigorating a franchise that was originally intended to wrap up with Saw 3D in 2010. Featuring the most recognisable cast in the series to date (including Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson and The Handmaid's Tale's Max Minghella), the latest instalment also boasts a classier appearance, despite its continued narrative ugliness, while it ups the investigation angle, edging it closer to Se7en than previous efforts. The combination means that Spiral: From the Book of Saw has the potential to draw in audiences beyond the traditional torture porn crowd.

It finds Chris Rock's whistle-blower detective, Zeke Banks, isolated from his untrustworthy colleagues, while a Jigsaw copycat killer is similarly exasperated with police corruption, albeit in a far more disgusting way. He offs Zeke's buddy 'Bos' (Dan Petronijevic) at the outset, in typically outlandish fashion, giving him a classic choice between self-mutilation or death – involving a clamped tongue and a railway track. Zeke has been languishing in the shadow of his revered former police chief father Marcus (played by Samuel L. Jackson, who doesn't have tonnes of screen-time). Catching the killer – who is working his way through Zeke's dodgy team – gives him the opportunity to prove himself.

Director Darren Lynn Bousman does a solid job, with the glossy finish and more political nature of the material differentiating it from the franchise's more cheapo entries. It still hits some pretty cliched cop thriller beats, and although it doesn't feature any especially ingenious kills, it sticks to the grisly script enough to satisfy fans. Don't try and make any sense of it (the production, transportation and concealment of these insane torture devices really does beggar belief), and you're sure to guess the killer. If Rock doesn't have huge dramatic range, he brings a certain swagger to his turn, launching himself admirably into his performance and throwing in a few characteristic rants and some wild-eyed emoting.

Yet, despite the incorporation of some (slightly) more sophisticated elements and Rock's comic chops, there's the same overarching, grinding humourlessness that has dogged much of the Saw series – meaning they lack the fun of the Final Destination franchise (and the Dr. Phibes films, that, way back when, provided some early inspiration for such gruesome shenanigans). Spiral is not quite up there with the 2004 original and, of course, it ain't pretty, but if you've got the stomach for it, then please, go right ahead.

Available to watch in cinemas from Mon 17 May.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 33min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
  • Written by: Josh Stolberg, Pete Goldfinger
  • Cast: Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, Samuel L. Jackson
  • UK release: 17 May 2021

Inspired by the city's gruesome past, a new serial killer emerges. Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock) and his rookie partner (Max Minghella) start to hunt them down but become entrapped in a morbid killing game.