For someone who is tremendously squeamish, I actually like the horror genre. I think I’ve seen a handful of the Saw films during Halloween movie marathons on television, but I don’t think I’ve ever watched one to completion. I lean more into enjoying psychological horror, rather than torture-porn horror, which unfortunately Spiral is the latter. That being said, Spiral had just enough suspense to keep me hooked (and not to a meat hook).
Spiral is Not for the Faint of Heart, Chris Rock and Max Minghella Take on a Jigsaw Copycat in a Page Torn from the Book of Saw
The Saw franchise is famous for its shocking twists and gruesome traps and it’s safe to say that Spiral delivers on capturing the essence of its predecessors. Part of that, I think, is because Lionsgate landed the perfect combination of creatives involved with the film, The star and Saw franchise fan, Chris Rock, was the one who launched the project during a clandestine meeting with Michael Burns, the vice chairman of Lionsgate, at a wedding. They then tapped the longtime Saw producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules, and then the Jigsaw screenwriting duo Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger.
Maybe I’m the exact right type of viewer for Spiral. I came in with limited knowledge of the franchise, a loose grasp on who Jigsaw is and was, and yearning for something a little more psychological.
In the production notes for Spiral, Rock explains where the film stands within the Saw franchise, “My idea was to take that up a notch this time, and to chart a new path forward. We keep everything that defines a Saw movie, but we also delve deeper into the psychological and suspense thriller elements that have always been there, beneath the surface – we’ve got the traps, we’ve got the gore, but we’ve also got a story and characters that will keep people guessing. That’s why I really don’t look at Spiral as the next Saw film. We’re actually starting over and heading in an entirely different direction with this movie.”
Spiral builds on the foundation of what Saw fans have come to expect, while delivering something new enough to lure in horror fans who might not be the biggest fans of the previous Saw films.
With all that said, let’s dive into the plot of Spiral. I am not going to give away the plot twist, because that’s not the kind of game I play. Get it? Games. Because the plot twist of Spiral took me completely by surprise and I want to preserve that shock for you.
Chris Rock plays Detective Zeke Banks, a good cop in a crooked system who is the odd-man-out at the precinct because he took down a crooked cop. The fact that his father was former Police Chief Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson) probably doesn’t make things any easier for him. After an undercover operation gone wrong, Captain Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols) assigns Banks his very own partner to keep him out of trouble. Enter Detective-in-Training William Schenk (Max Minghella), a cop with ambitions of his own.
Shortly after Banks and Schenk partner up, the games begin. What I didn’t tell you yet, is that the film starts with a classic Saw torture scene that is going to haunt me for the rest of my life. I’m never going to complain about burning my tongue on hot coffee again, which I did just before I hit play on Spiral this morning. If you love gore, carnage, and insanely clever and sadistic torture contraptions — look no further than Spiral.
At first, I was worried that Spiral would be one of those cop-ified horror films where the cops save the day. But very early on we see that the Jigsaw Copycat Killer has it out for the corrupt, murderous, lying cops within the precinct. The killer has a vendetta against the cops, one that I think Banks might understand. And just in case there was any doubt about how the killer feels about cops, his disguise is a pig head.
There were so many moments that I was pointing at my screen shouting, “BEHIND YOU!” as I quickly covered my eyes out of fear of the blood bath that was to come.
I will be honest, the film’s dialogue is weak at points. Cringeworthy weak, in fact. But the plot, the suspense, and the cast make up for so many of the issues I had with the script. Chris Rock is pretty phenomenal during the back half of Spiral as Banks is in a race against time to figure out who the Jigsaw copycat is as cops are dropping like flies around him. I was not feeling his performance for the first half of the film, so much so that I messaged a friend who had also seen the film just to see if it got better. Most of that I brushed off as the script not giving him what he needed in the moment, but then he knocked it out of the park once the pressure was applied to Banks. For someone known for his funny roles, Chris Rock does really well in the horror genre.
I came into this film already a fan of Max Minghella from his work on Hulu's Handmaid’s Tale (Nick Blaine is the only reason I’m still watching the series, don’t @ me). But I came away from Spiral an even bigger fan of his work. Minghella is so good at showing a full range of emotions within only a few lines of dialogue. He and Chris Rock play really well off of each other and I hope to see them work together on a future project someday.
Spiral is not for the faint of heart. Spiral is ninety-three minutes of blood, gore, carnage, and a truly jaw-dropping twist that I didn’t see coming. Horror films aren’t meant to perfect. They are supposed to make your heart race, your mind spin, and, in my case, make your stomach hurt. Spiral succeeds at including all the right ingredients to delight horror film lovers.
Just as the Jigsaw Copycat Killer leaves spirals at his crime scenes, Spiral will leave you spiraling. A word of caution, don’t watch this film on a full stomach. It may cause tongue tenderness, joint pain in the fingers, and an intense fear of being skinned alive.