Combustible Celluloid
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With: Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan David Jones, Ali Johnson, Dan Petronijevic, Richard Zeppieri, Edie Inksetter, Leila Leigh, Christopher Tai, John Tokatlidis, Genelle Williams, K.C. Collins, Nazneen Contractor, Frank Licari, Zoie Palmer
Written by: Josh Stolberg, Pete Goldfinger
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
MPAA Rating: R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, pervasive language, some sexual references and brief drug use
Running Time: 93
Date: 05/14/2021

Spiral (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

I Saw What You Did

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The expected gimmicky torture/gore scenes in this Saw spinoff (originally titled Spiral: From the Book of Saw) seem a little out of place in what is otherwise a decently moody, intense police story, with an impressive, modulated performance by Chris Rock.

Police detective Zeke Banks (Rock) — son of the legendary Captain Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson) — has endured years of hate and harassment in his New York precinct for turning in a dirty cop. After an undercover job goes wrong, the current captain (Marisol Nichols) assigns him a rookie partner, William Schenk (Max Minghella). Their first assignment is to check out the decimated body of a man hit by a train.

They discover that the body belongs to one of their colleagues, and a friend of Zeke's. Before long, another cop dies, the victim of a brutal torture machine. Soon they begin receiving messages and packages filled with body parts, recalling the MO of the former Jigsaw killer. Can Zeke solve the puzzle before more cops die?

The ninth movie in a series that left off in 2017 with Jigsaw, Spiral is, like the original movie in the series, Saw (2004), a gore/horror film on the surface, and a murder mystery at heart. It's more than just another sequel that copies the formula. It actually evokes David Fincher's Seven or Zodiac more than it does any of the Saw movies, with its hardened, veteran detective, the fresh-faced rookie, and the brutality of the crimes.

It creates a potent big city vibe, dense and heightened, but not without moments of familiarity and comfort. In his role, Rock finds ways to slip his persona into the character with a few funny jabs here and there, but remains rooted in Zeke's real pain and moral dilemma.

Director Darren Lynn Bousman — who helmed Saw II, Saw III, and Saw IV — misses a chance to connect Black characters with police corruption in a meaningful way, but his torture sequences almost seem like asides; they could be cut down or out and the story wouldn't suffer. They also create a flaw that provides an early cue to the final reveal. But thanks to Rock and the movie's overall atmosphere, Spiral actually works in a roundabout way.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release is impressive. Its Dolby Atmos audio and visual transfer are excellent, and it includes a bonus DVD and digital copy. We get a descriptive audio track, plus French and Spanish tracks, as well as optional English, Spanish, and French subtitles. It includes two audio commentary tracks, one by director Bousman, co-screenwriter Josh Stolberg, and composer Charlie Clouser, and a second one by producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg. Other bonuses include an hour-long making-of documentary, a guided tour of the traps, a featurette on the marketing, and trailers. Recommended.

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