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Review: 'Spiral: From the Book of Saw'

Spiral c/o Lionsgate
Spiral c/o Lionsgate

By: Kayla Caldwell

SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW immediately hearkens back to previous Saw films with a gruesome first kill you want to watch through your fingers. We see Detective Boswick or Bos (Dan Petronijevic), who is dressed like Lieutenant Batista from Dexter for some reason, even though it appears to be New York on the fourth of July, chases a man down the street, and into a subway tunnel.

Next thing he knows, Bos wakes up with his head in a strange contraption that has his tongue isolated, while he is standing on a step stool on the train tracks, with his arms painfully tied behind his back. A TV placed on the tracks in front of him turns on to reveal a figure in a pig mask.

The figure tells Bos that he has two minutes until the train comes, and if he wants to live, he has to jump off of the stool, thereby cutting out his own tongue, but also saving his life. This is because Bos is reportedly guilty of railroading innocent people with his lies on the stand, so, “today, it is you who will be railroaded.”

Like many of the “games” in the later Saw movies, Bos seems destined to fail, and eventually, does. He’s splattered on the windshield of the oncoming train in gruesome detail. Talk about starting with a bang.

The movie then pivots to Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), who has gone undercover without telling anyone. Zeke claims he had no choice, because “he can’t trust anyone on the force.” We learn that 12 years earlier, he turned in a crooked cop, which led to all of the other officers hating him. That, in turn, led to him getting shot, when no backup arrived, despite him calling for it three times in eight minutes. Captain Angie Garza (Riverdale’s Veronica Lodge! AKA Marisol Nichols) knows all of this, but that doesn’t make her any less furious that Zeke opted to run his own mission. To punish him, Angie saddles him with a new partner, William Schenk (Max Minghella), who was apparently the top of his police academy class.

We see just how contentious Zeke’s relationship is with the other officers, when he has to wipe a dead rat off of his desk. Schenk fails to read the room, and gushes about how excited he is to join this team, particularly singling out Zeke’s father, Chief Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson) as the reason for his detective dreams. “Prepare to be underwhelmed,” Zeke says, seemingly imitating every man I've encountered on a dating app.

Cut to Zeke and Schenk hopping in the former’s hot muscle car. This is where SPIRAL feels a bit like a buddy cop movie, with Zeke complaining about his ex cheating on him and not understanding the demanding schedule of a cop.

Richard Zeppieri, Edie Inksetter, Chris Rock, and Max Minghella in Spiral c/o Lionsgate
Richard Zeppieri, Edie Inksetter, Chris Rock, and Max Minghella in Spiral c/o Lionsgate

After checking on the crime scene from the first kill, Zeke receives a box that looks like it's from Tiffany’s. Instead of jewelry, Zeke finds a flash drive inside. It reveals a video that shows the titular spiral spray-painted onto the side of the courthouse, while someone says they are “here to help reform the metro police.”

At the courthouse, Zeke finds another blue box, this one containing a human tongue, and Bos’s police badge. Zeke does not take the discovery well, and neither do the rest of the officers. However, cops like Det. Fitch (Richard Zeppieri) would rather fight with Zeke than put together a plan to avenge Bos. Zeke steps to Fitch in a confrontation that is amusing, albeit not wise considering his standing at the precinct. We see the effects later when Det. Fitch and Det. Kraus (Edie Inksetter) find security footage of Bos on the fourth of July, but opt not to share the information with Zeke, or anyone else for that matter.

When Zeke arrives home, it appears someone has broken in. But it’s no Jigsaw, it’s just his father, Marcus, who is also his landlord. He seems doubtful in Zeke’s capabilities to solve the case, which leads to one of many flashbacks explaining the disgraced cop’s notoriety at the precinct.

Samuel L. Jackson in Spiral c/o Lionsgate
Samuel L. Jackson in Spiral c/o Lionsgate

His old partner, Pete, shot a witness who had agreed to testify against a corrupt officer who had thrown a suspect off of a rooftop. Pete tried to plant a gun next to him, but Zeke saw through that charade, asking, “The witness pulled a gun on you?” He ended up turning the man in, infuriating his father, and everyone else on the force.

Another officer finds themselves in the killer’s snare, and that means another gift for Detective Banks. In this video, there’s a creepy pig cop marionette dangling in front of a truck with the spiral spray-painted on it. The location is telling, since it is where one of metro’s finest shot a kid for giving him the finger. Along with the image of the creepy puppet, a voiceover says, “I have a bone to pick with the police department… Until you come clean, many more will die.”

The police rush to the location from the video only to find a literal dead pig, as well as another blue box. This one has fingers and another police badge in it. This time, when they find the body, Det. Drury (K.C. Collins) accuses Zeke of being the killer, since he didn’t like that officer anyway. It’s an interesting moment, because is there a chance the killer is trying to frame Zeke for all of the murders? They certainly all have some personal connection to him.

Max Minghella and Chris Rock in Spiral c/o Lionsgate
Max Minghella and Chris Rock in Spiral c/o Lionsgate

The elaborate contraptions the killer uses make everyone think of John Kramer, but he’s already dead at this point, and, as Zeke says, “John Kramer didn’t target cops… This is personal.” His partner agrees, noting that, “Somebody’s out there pulling all the strings.”

They visit Zeke’s old partner Pete (Patrick McManus) - the one who had to do nine years hard time because of him - and while they leave without any new information, we do learn that Article VIII was the cause for a lot of the corruption in the department, since cops were given their own discretion to stop crime. Clearly, this legislation is a motivating factor for the killer. Pete even jokes, “We were out of control!”

Another day, another blue box for Zeke. Inside, he finds a pig puppet like the one from the last video, as well as the skin of yet another fallen officer. “Am I getting under your skin?” the message teases Zeke, adding, “While you’re looking for more bodies to drop, I’ll take your head.” Underneath the skin in the box, they find Constantine Paints, which come from a hobby shop Zeke used to go to with his father when he was a child.

They rush to the scene, which is now a butcher shop, and in the freezer find flayed remains. We see the Jigsaw-esque tape recorder, but only hear about five seconds of the recording - just enough to know this cop, too, had fallen thanks to their cop-killing serial killer with a penchant for riddles.

* light spoilers ahead * (end twist isn’t revealed)

Chris Rock in Spiral c/o Lionsgate
Chris Rock in Spiral c/o Lionsgate

After wasting time checking out what ends up just being a distraction, Zeke puts two and two together, realizing Captain Garza is probably next in the line of fire. So when she gets a text from “Zeke” to go check out a cold case file in the basement, we all know where this is going. Once she’s alone in the file room, she spies someone dressed in black and wearing a pig mask, who then DROPS GAS CANISTERS ON THE FLOOR.

I realize with all of the extreme gore in this film, gas canisters shouldn’t send shockwaves through my body the way that they did, but how do you prepare for that? With the door closed behind her, there’s no way to protect herself, and now I have yet another anxiety to keep in the back of my mind for the rest of my dating life.

Garza looks like she’s about to get waterboarded, tied to a device in a horizontal position, with a rag over her face. However, this is a Saw film, so of course, it’s much worse. We find out Angie is in this position because of her part in covering up years of corruption at the Metro PD. She can choose between shifting her way into having her spine severed by a blade on the table, or having hot wax from a spigot above her head suffocate her to death.

Marisol Nichols in Spiral c/o Lionsgate
Marisol Nichols in Spiral c/o Lionsgate

As you’ve probably guessed, Zeke gets there too late. In an act of desperation, he tries to peel the black wax off of Angie’s face, but clearly he has never seen 2005’s House of Wax, because we all know that is not going to work.

Zeke and another officer go through security footage, but find 13 minutes missing. The only cop who was on the computer that morning was Zeke’s old partner, so it’s time yet again to pay Pete a visit.

Meanwhile, Zeke’s father has been missing for days. The two were supposed to have dinner and go over the case, but Marcus never showed - even though his food delivery order did. Zeke calls him, infuriated, screaming into the phone, “I’ve called you three times!” I’m sorry - three times? Your COP father has been missing for days while a COP KILLER is on the loose, and you’ve only called three times? I know he’s supposed to be this hardboiled detective (another cop movie trope!) but come on.

Here we get flashbacks to Marcus’s whereabouts. I actually really like how SPIRAL slowly teases out all the kills as the movie goes along, either through flashbacks or in jump cuts between Zeke's search for answers and the deaths themselves.

Marcus also received a text from “Zeke,” explaining he knows who the killer is, and where to find him. As cops always do in movies/TV (another trope!), Marcus heads into the dangerous situation without any backup. “You wanna play games, motherf*****?” he says, giving us all our money’s worth.

Chris Rock in Spiral c/o Lionsgate
Chris Rock in Spiral c/o Lionsgate

Now it’s Zeke’s turn to get into the game, as the pig-mask-wearing killer captures him, too, with a bit of misdirection and a rag laced with (probably?) chloroform. In a wonderful homage to the original Saw, he wakes up with one arm chained to a pipe, and a saw placed beside him on the floor. Will he follow Dr. Lawrence Gordon’s lead and saw off his own hand? I won’t say, but I will tell you that he somehow gets out of that situation, only to find Pete in yet another Jigsaw-esque contraption.

Then the movie really begins to feel like one of the old Saw films, as the ending usually involved someone moving from one violent vignette to another, like the world’s least fun escape room. The music starts to get really good, and you know the big reveal is coming. Zeke walks into the room to find the mastermind standing beside a table full of fast food, which feels like a nice nod to the killer’s psychopathy.

I won’t reveal the killer, but I will say that director Darren Lynn Bousman definitely hid clues throughout the film if you were paying attention. There’s always a big monologue with the motive, and that’s why we’re here, right? In this case, it’s pretty damn obvious. The killer says, “These cops are not going to clean up on their own.” We all know that’s the truth.

The connection to John Kramer is loose, but I’m happy for the additional venture into his world, so I don’t really care. John previously used the spiral, because it is a “symbol of change, evolution, and progress.” The murderer goes on to say that it seems silly to limit that grand notion to just one person. Why not go after an entire crooked system, like the metro police?

Samuel L. Jackson in Spiral c/o Lionsgate
Samuel L. Jackson in Spiral c/o Lionsgate

Zeke seems pretty motivated by the "right thing to do," seeing as he voluntarily turned over a dirty cop knowing the consequences would be severe. So perhaps he was not the best choice as a target for this killer, who is looking for a partner in crime. However, we all have our breaking point. Zeke’s spent the last 12 years a pariah for doing the right thing, maybe he can be turned.

The plan is to continue killing dirty cops, until all of the others get the hint and fall in line. At this point, you’re probably thinking, okay, fun monologue, but where the hell is Samuel L. Jackson? He is strung up, making him a living embodiment of the pig puppet the killer has been using -- except each “string” attached to him is draining all of the blood from his body,

Murder-mystery type films often glamorize their officers, a sentiment not exactly palatable at the current moment in time. So it was a relief to find SPIRAL focusing entirely on the corruption within the police force. It is a little tricky, because as we know, the problems with cops are systemic, and not dependent on one or two bad eggs. However, any talk about change in a format that can be fed to the masses is a gift.

Chris Rock in Spiral c/o Lionsgate
Chris Rock in Spiral c/o Lionsgate

I can’t decide if the message is muddled or amplified by the film ending with a Black man being shot to death by police officers. What I will say is, it was a shocking, abrupt conclusion that felt like a splash of water to the face after an hour and a half of titillating horror. It leaves room for a sequel, which I would absolutely see.

Yes, there are plenty of cop tropes in this movie - (“You’re too close to this thing, Zeke!”) - with Zeke’s general misanthropic attitude, penchant for screaming matches to get his point across, and bitterness toward his broken home life. But it was damn fun to watch Chris Rock as an angry detective, kicking down doors, going undercover, and monologuing about how nobody is nicer than Forrest Gump.

Will the next SPIRAL follow Zeke’s continued quest for justice? Or could there be a new killer in another corrupt American system that needs reform? Only time will tell, but if you check out SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW in theaters, I bet those odds for a sequel go way up! Until then, my friends, try to be a good person, and always carry a gas mask, I guess.

SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW is in theaters now.


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