Movie Review – Spiral: From the Book of Saw
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This is the ninth installment in the horror franchise that began with Saw (2004). The franchise is emblematic of the trend in the early 2000’s called “torture porn,” which is any horror film that glorifies or revels in gore and violence. Torture porn is when a film tries to depict the most bloody and gruesome deaths on screen as one could get. Splatter and slasher films have always been a thing, going back decades, but torture porn really is just an excuse to watch people die in over-the-top ways that spills or splashes as much red fluid and eviscerated flesh as possible. I was never personally a fan of torture porn. Given Chris Rock’s involvement though, I was hoping that this film might do something to elevate the material out of the torture porn muck. It perhaps tries, but it’s still firmly in that muck.
It might seem like a strange comparison, but I thought of the Mission: Impossible franchise starring Tom Cruise. At this point, that action franchise is just an excuse for Cruise to do crazy and over-the-top stunts that are incredible and visually stunning. This franchise is just an excuse for the producers and director to do crazy and over-the-top torture scenes. It’s not sure, but the torture scenes might be concocted first and then a thin plot might have been strung around them. It’s not that far flung from how Mission: Impossible has been crafting its recent films. At least though, the action scenes in Mission: Impossible are inventive or exhilarating because Cruise is actually doing them. The torture scenes don’t feel inventive or exhilarating. They all seem the same. With the exception of one scene, I couldn’t distinguish the torture scenes here from any of the others either in this film or in previous ones, which probably is the point.
Chris Rock (Death at a Funeral and Top Five) stars as Zeke Banks, a detective in some metro police department. The city is never identified, but shots of the skyline look like Philadelphia. Zeke is persona non grata in the department because Zeke testified against another because he was a corrupt cop. Now, all the other cops on the force don’t respect him or actively hate him, leaving him without back-up, which results in Zeke getting shot and almost dying. Zeke is still on the force mainly because his father was a powerful officer who protected his son. All of this has made Zeke a very cynical and bitter person whose marriage was ruined. He walks around delivering snide remarks and jokes, as well as delivering rants, much in the way that Rock does while he’s on stage delivering his stand-up comedy in his usual loud and brash way. It’s obvious that Rock probably wrote or improvised a lot of his comedic lines here.
Unfortunately, it feels like more effort was put into allowing Rock to inject comedy and humor into this film than the effort to craft an interesting or compelling script. One could possibly excuse the failings here because this whole film seems like it takes place over the course of a few days, if no longer than a week. This film could also be excused because the film is about a bunch of dirty and corrupt cops. However, one has to highly suspend disbelief because it feels like the cops here don’t do any police work, which is ironic because the victims in this film are themselves cops. There’s this cliché idea that anytime a cop gets killed, the police force goes all out to investigate and find the culprit. Yet, at times here, it doesn’t feel like the police are going all out.
Rock spends a ton of time giving a comedic rant about Forrest Gump (1994) and referencing his previous film New Jack City (1991) than was spent investigating and confirming a specific murder in this film. Literally, a fellow cop that Zeke knows disappears and he assumes that the cop dies, but that death is never confirmed with something like DNA or dental records. The film makes a point for Zeke to get upset over contacting the family of one dead cop but then when another one does, he completely ignores contacting the family.
Samuel L. Jackson (Captain Marvel and Pulp Fiction) co-stars as Marcus Banks, the father to Zeke and legendary former police officer. It’s not a total spoiler to say that Marcus disappears. Zeke doesn’t presume him dead despite all the other cop murders. Zeke also barely takes any steps to track down his father, even though it’s clear that something has happened to him. Therefore, this film only works because it just feels like Zeke just randomly decides not to do police work that would make sense for him to do.
This film had the potential to say something about the police and policing in this country. Given the recent Black Lives Matter protests, especially the ones that came in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, this film was perfectly set to be a kind of satire about police corruption and police reform. Yet, this film doesn’t go near any of the racial issues or racial biases about which many criticize the police. The film devolves though into a simple revenge tale but nothing about the systemic issues that BLM has brought up. It does go to the police corruption scandals that we’ve seen in the past, but it doesn’t help to make this film stand out.
Rated R for grisly bloody violence and torture, pervasive language, sexual references and drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 35 mins.