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SYFY WIRE reviews

Critics say Chris Rock's 'Saw' reboot 'Spiral' has plenty of gnarly kills, but misses 'Get Out' level of awareness

By Josh Weiss
Chris Rock in Spiral

Earlier this year, Chris Rock compared his reboot of the Saw franchise (entitled Spiral: From the Book of Saw) to David Fincher's S7ven. With reviews for the project now coming online, we can see just how apt that comparison was. The Hollywood Reporter's Lovia Gyarkye details an early death-by-torture sequence in which a cop is forced to decide between ripping out his own tongue or getting hit by a speeding subway train.

"I wish I could give a detailed account of how Bozwick dies or dissect the realistic nature of the tongue-torture device, but as a famously squeamish person I covered my eyes," reads the review. "When the screams stopped, I looked up and saw a single, haunting shot of a purple-pink tongue. A tongue that I’m still thinking about. Do with that information what you will."

It's good to know that the torture porn element of the series is still intact, but as Variety's Owen Gleiberman points out, the gruesome tongue-ripping is part of the latest Jigsaw killer's obssession with macabre symbolism (à la S7ven's John Doe). The latest maniac to carry on the legacy of John Kramer is targeting cops and for very specific purposes. To go any further would be be to invite spoilers into the conversation, but rest assured that Spiral has more on its mind than just blood and guts.

"Following a year of mass protests over police brutality — notably across America following the murder of George Floyd — the long-delayed Spiral is striking at a particularly pertinent moment," writes Jordan Farley for Total Film. "It may not be as nuanced or insidiously scary as Jordan Peele’s modern horror classic [Get Out], rarely rising above 'bad cops get the chop' (literally), but that Spiral even goes there is commendable."

IGN's Siddhant Adlakha takes a different stance on the attempt at social commentary: "The film clearly hopes to insert itself into the post-Get Out wave of socially-minded Black mainstream horror. Although, it does this about as deftly as the dopey slave-sploitation thriller Antebellum. It even goes as far as employing imagery evocative of police shootings, in a moment that tries (and fails, quite egregiously) to echo the social commentary of George Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead. You’ll know it when you see it, and good lord, is it mishandled."

Rock, who came up with the film's central story and serves as executive producer, also plays Spiral's main character: NYPD detective, Zeke Banks. Along with his young new partner, William Schenk (Max Minghella), Zeke tracks the new Jigsaw killer against the backdrop of a sweltering Manhattan summer. "Banks gets a body part in the mail, and the cycle starts over again," says Collider's Matt Goldberg. "The film really doesn’t know how to push beyond that, and so it rests heavily on Rock’s charisma to carry it between traps before the inevitable reveal that is in no way shocking but attempts to explain how Spiral is different from other Saw movies."

Leaning into the movie's love of metaphor, Paste Magazine's Jacob Oller (formerly of SYFY WIRE) likens Spiral to one of the franchise's deadly traps, writing that it "brings just enough newness to dupe those disillusioned with the franchise or those that never boarded the booby-trapped bandwagon in the first place into cautiously checking it out ...  The film is, fittingly, a trap. A sick game, luring those of us intrigued by Rock’s performance in Fargo into the same ol’ bear trap we should’ve expected from the start. Spiral might have rhetorical wrinkles that set it apart from its predecessors, but this franchise is still going around in circles."

"Spiral takes an unexpected twist or two, but considering that its lead actor is Black and that it’s a thriller pegged to the issue of police immorality, the film confronts that theme in a weirdly untopical, almost garishly generic way," writes Gleiberman. His review concludes: "The Saw series hasn’t really changed. So depending on whether you’re a fan or not, eat up…or throw up."

Helmed by Saw veteran Daryn Lynn Bousman (he directed the second, third, and fourth installments of the original canon), Spiral arrives in theaters everywhere this Friday, May 14. Samuel L. Jackson, Marisol Nichols, Max Minghella, Dan Petronijevic, Nazneen Contractor, and K.C. Collins co-star.