June 9, 2021 Spiral (Movie Review)
Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, and Max Minghella are given the choice to live or die in Spiral, a gory blend of Crime and Mystery aimed at fans of the Saw franchise. Lionsgate delivered the horrific game to theaters on Friday, May 14, 2021.
Originally titled Spiral: From the Book of Saw, but dropping everything to stand on its own merits and simply become Spiral, the film was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II 2005, Tales of Halloween 2015) and written by Josh Stolberg (Piranha 3D 2010, Jigsaw 2017) and Pete Goldfinger (Sorority Row 2009, Jigsaw 2017). Its story revolves around Detective Zeke Banks (Rock: Madagascar 2005, Top Five 2014), whose entire career on the force has been plagued by his father’s (Jackson: Pulp Fiction 1994, The Hateful Eight 2015) infamous reputation. An outsider in a career that centers around loyalty and trust, Zeke is given the chance to finally have someone at his back when he’s partnered with the new guy, Detective William Schenk (Minghella: The Social Network 2010, The Handmaid’s Tale series).
On their very first day together, the pair find themselves at the scene of a truly grotesque murder in the subway. What’s worse, the victim (Dan Petronijevic: Happy Town 2010, 19-2 series) might be one of their own—although the remains don’t leave much to work with. Once Captain Garza (Marisol Nichols: 24 series, Riverdale series) has assigned Zeke as lead on the case, he spirals headfirst into a criminal mastermind’s game of malice. Ultimately he will be forced to figure out if the infamous Jigsaw has risen from the dead to kill again, or if there is a copycat pursuing their own form of twisted justice.
When it comes to the Saw franchise, there’s a certain level of sadistic creativity that is expected, with fans tuning in for death scenes that take gruesome to new heights. In this respect, Spiral delivers enough torture porn so that it does not disappoint. But these are not the amusing kills that we so often encounter in modern Horror, rather, the cringe-worthy scenes that leave us uncomfortable and checking to be sure that all of our fingers and toes are still intact. So it goes without saying that the film is not intended for children or anyone who is too squeamish to witness gratuitous dismemberment.
It shares some similarities with other Mystery-Thrillers that delve into Horror, such as 1995’s Seven. This makes it easy to say that fans of the aforementioned film, who also happen to enjoy the Saw franchise, are guaranteed to enjoy their time with Spiral. But the same cannot be said for those who are simply fans of the Mystery or Thriller genres, as the gratuitous violence of the film is apt to be a turn-off to those who simply wish to solve a mind-bending puzzle.
Either way, at 93 succinct minutes, Spiral is careful to build a story that allows the talents of its leading actors to shine. Providing the talented Rock with complicated, sometimes contradictory dimensions in his role, the film’s creators set the veteran actor up for a stellar performance as Detective Zeke Banks. Thus, despite the seriousness of his character’s situation, Rock’s phenomenal personality can be glimpsed through Zeke’s cynicism and harsh wit, as well as his relationship with his father. This makes Banks a kind of anti-cop: he plays by his own rules, even if that means shirking his loyalty to the other boys in blue. Neither stodgy nor immoral, like the other officers, Rock’s Banks is the detective who still ideally wants to make a difference, despite having had to face reality and harden his heart to survive.
As the man he envies most, his father and former police captain, Marcus Banks, Jackson is equally superb in his role. Though he is given much less to work with, he delivers both wit and gumption, playing off Rock to provide some brilliant onscreen moments. Their dialogue is fluid and feels organic to their roles, both spirited men who have chosen to take an oath to protect their city. And, not to be overlooked, as a woman who also made that promise, Nichols is powerful in her commanding performance as Captain Garza.
Despite all of this, Spiral still sits in an awkward niche: part big-budget Mystery-Thriller, part torture porn. And we do not say this to demean the film in any way, rather, to point out the bizarre juxtaposition of its screenplay. Because, as the former, it suffers from its de-emphasis of the riddle that Detective Banks is attempting to resolve (and solves rather easily), though as the latter it is a bit too polished to ever truly make its audience tremble in fear. Uncomfortable, yes. Scared senseless? No. Instead, Spiral feels like a timely commentary on loyalty, sacrifice, and the poison unleashed by “a few” rotten eggs. Watch or not, the choice is yours! Cryptic Rock gives Spiral 3.5 of 5 stars.