Too often dismissed as the poster child of the noughties 'torture porn' horror wave, there was always more to Saw than senseless sadism. Series spin-off Spiral fully embraces Saw’s widely overlooked strengths, emerging, perhaps surprisingly, as the most political horror movie since Get Out.
Unlikely star Chris Rock is largely to thank for the series’ welcome revival, a decade on from 'The Final Chapter', and four years after 2017’s faded-glory reboot Jigsaw. Rocks plays Detective Zeke Banks, son of Samuel L. Jackson’s former police Captain Marcus Banks.
When miscellaneous appendages previously attached to missing cops start arriving on Zeke’s desk he’s assigned the case, alongside Max Minghella’s rookie detective William Schenk. But it soon becomes clear that Jigsaw, or his latest copycat, is no longer targeting those who take life for granted, but corrupt police officers.
Following a year of mass protests over police brutality – notably across America following the murder of George Floyd – the long-delayed Spiral is striking at a particularly pertinent moment. It may not be as nuanced or insidiously scary as Jordan Peele’s modern horror classic, rarely rising above 'bad cops get the chop' (literally), but that Spiral even goes there is commendable.
The extraordinarily daring ending, meanwhile, is a worthy successor to the original Saw’s jaw-dropping final moments, and demands to be experienced in a cinema with the biggest Friday-night crowd that social distancing restrictions will allow.
Beyond the film’s full-throated politics, and a marginally more humorous tone that – you suspect – comes entirely from Chris Rock improvs, it’s mostly icky business as usual. Series stalwart Darren Lynn Bousman (who previously directed Saws II, III and IV) ensures Spiral feels like a piece from the same gnarly jigsaw puzzle, drawing from a familiar but effective bag of tricks.
The largely self-contained plot might not boast the interconnected, labyrinthine intricacy of earlier films, but it’s satisfyingly twisty-turny and red-herring-filled, while the traps live up to the series’ reputation for wincingly horrible murder machines. Let’s just say sales of Chinese finger traps are about to plummet...
That a formula as well-trodden as Saw’s can still surprise, delight, and make you feel like you need a quick shower after is impressive. But Spiral is also that rarest of reboots – one that will satisfy series die-hards and a whole new generation of horror nuts. Well played.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw reaches cinemas on May 14, 2021, in the US and May 17, 2021, in the UK. For more, check out the best Netflix horror movies.