I’m going to level with all of you. I’m not the biggest Saw fan. There are elements that I enjoy individually in the franchise. The mystery of the first movie is intriguing. Weirdly enough the filmmaking of the last entry, Jigsaw, is pretty strong despite a horrible script and story. Otherwise, I feel like the movies aren’t that scary. The traps can feel like an attempt to keep the audience’s attention with insane gore to feeling like some sicko needs to make something for their spank bank. That might be a dirty joke, but it is Saw we’re talking about. The point is I never found the traps themselves that scary. I’m not a Saw fan, but I would like to enjoy a Saw movie. The series concepts lend well both the crowd-pleasing kills and psychological horror elements. For me, the series just leans way too into gore. Well, despite some very glaring issues, Spiral is probably the best Saw movie that I’ve seen.
Spiral doesn’t get a lot right, but it gets what it needs to right. The gore effects do what they set out to do. I’m going to argue later on in why that the gore hurts the movie, but I do want to pay service to the work put into them. They are effective in being gross. There are some strong musical compositions from Charlie Clouser. A lot of it treads similar territory with his work on past Saw movies, but there are still some strong songs. The cinematography from Jordan Oram is also pretty good. One of the two major highlights is the story structure. The story (which is based on a treatment by Chris Rock) has a lot of strong themes. Even the twists can be fun despite how predictable they are. I predicted most of the twist, but despite that, I never felt like the movie was ruined because I figured it out. The last highlight is Chris Rock. Chris Rock is great in this movie and he has fantastic chemistry with fellow cast members Samuel L. Jackson and Max Minghella. I would love to see Chris Rock in more roles like this.
As for issues. Director Darren Lynn Bousman is a competent director that can direct some gory scenes. He’s just not that subtle of a director. There are many scenes where it feels like he isn’t letting the story element breathe. Rather, his doing quick edits of people screaming in the hopes that it will raise tension. I don’t want to say that doesn’t work, but it often feels like it’s a weird way to go. Also while the makeup effects are great, I don’t think they serve the story that well. Like many Saw movies, there are trap scenes where people lose part of their bodies. None of them make an impact on me until the third one (which is the first one to use a developed character). Most of the traps are directed towards people you don’t know. Watching no-names lose their tongues isn’t intense, it’s just a brief moment of cringe followed by emptiness. The second major death in the movie is only shown after the aftermath. The aftermath is effective because it gives you an idea of what’s at stake without going over the top. Then it shows the trap in a flashback and it ruined it for me. I think it speaks volumes that one of the film’s deaths lost its impact after it was shown. Also, while I praised the general story, the script is rough. Even the best Saw scripts feel like they could use another draft and this isn’t any different. It’s not awful, but some elements just fall flat. They introduce a divorce angle that doesn’t matter. Scenes directly contradict who Chris Rock’s character is and some thematic moments feel brushed over. The script can largely pull its weight where it needs to but it ends up having glaring issues. To be honest, I don’t know how much of it is the writers’ fault. I’ve been curious to see what it’s like to get notes for a Saw script. I’m sure some producers just assume that everyone wants the gross gore scenes. So when it comes to story content, I’m wondering if producers just settle for good enough instead of letting the writers further develop their story. I think about this because it’s clear that the writing could’ve been so much better if it was allowed further development. It just makes me think that a Saw movie can be truly great if the right care was put into it from all parties (both executives and creatives).
At the end of the day, my thoughts on Spiral are: ‘Good, enough.’ I think most Saw fans will find something to enjoy here, but even newcomers might be intrigued if they can get past the pointless gore scenes. I mostly enjoyed Spiral and I can see myself watching it again just for Chris Rock. Is this a great move? No. Is it enjoyable? I think so. If you’re into any type of horror I do think there’s something to enjoy here. Check it out.