GORE IN THE STORE
SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW ***
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman.
Starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella.
Horror, US, certificate 18, 93 minutes.
Released in the UK in cinemas 17th May by Lionsgate.
For the ninth entry in the Saw franchise, SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW very much wipes the slate clean in order to mark itself out as a whole new chapter in the Jigsaw saga. Gone is the increasingly convoluted storyline that wrapped itself up in an increasingly preposterous knot in order to make sure it was tied to the original entry, replaced now with a whole new cast of characters headed up by Chris Rock’s beleaguered detective who finds himself being taunted by a possible acolyte of the original Jigsaw, one who also likes to make a point in using elaborate torture devices to make a point.
The more things change the more they stay the same. Despite its all-new cast, creepy puppet and its cop movie stylings long-time fans will find much here to keep themselves satisfied. Director Darren Lynn Bousman, returning here after directing the first three sequels, ensures that the old style of speedy, cranked up camera work accompanied by a grinding industrial score lingering over preposterously sadistic torture scenes is still the order of the day. No time is wasted in making sure that we know exactly what franchise we are watching with an opening scene that sees a policeman hanging by his tongue in a train tunnel while a speeding train approaches. Charged with investigating the mess that occurs as a result is Rock’s Detective Zeke Banks, a cop who plays by his own rules, even if it means turning on his fellow detectives.
When it becomes apparent that policemen are now being targeted by this morally twisted copycat killer, Zeke and his rookie partner Charlie find themselves in an investigation that seems inextricably linked to their own police departments past and to Zeke’s own father, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who once led said department. Led on by the ever present spiral sign that the original Jigsaw seemed to be so fond of, Zeke is soon forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about the system he so strongly believes in as well as coming into contact with some really uncomfortable and grisly scenarios designed to inflict the maximum amount of pain and suffering.
This mix of cop movie and torture horror manages to produce entertaining results. Those who find themselves turned off by what was often described as torture porn will no doubt find nothing at all to enjoy here. For those with a strong stomach for such goings on they may appreciate the over-the-top nature of it all. Beginning with its tongue ripping opening act there is little here that can be taken seriously as the scenarios become more over the top and near nonsensical at times. One wonders if the safety inspector had the day off when the most dangerous glass recycling machine in cinema history is put to use, but not in the way its inventor surely intended.
Such preposterousness is anchored by Chris Rock’s surprising turn at taking centre stage here. Already more than proving his worth dramatically in the most recent season of FARGO, he proves his versatility here once again. While his character here often veers into cliché, aided by the films thin script, he still manages to convince as a character who would not be out of place in a more action-oriented film while he still manages to effortlessly raise a laugh without dipping into full on comedy mode.
It is an interesting direction for the franchise to take. While not as bold or radical as it may have hoped to have been when it was first announced it still manages to entertain and make the audience squirm with its patented grand guignol stylings. The hope of a sequel to see where it goes from here, especially with its abrupt ending which some may feel cheated by, is the first time in a long time that such a statement could be expressed by those with only a passing interest in this franchise. Being one of the first films to be released in cinemas after nearly half a year since their doors were shut, whether enough of an audience is willing to turn up to ensure a tenth chapter is just something we will have to wait and see. As a first time visit back to the cinema it easily manages to prove itself as a fun and blood-spattered night out. Something we could all do with right now.