I’ve had an interesting relationship with the Saw franchise. The first one is a genuinely effective, low-budget thriller. The third one was a very clear end to a trilogy, with all of the main villains dying (sorry, spoilers)… And then there are somehow four more over the next four years. And somehow another one eight years after the series ended. I would never say it was a good series, but I did touch my first boob during one of the Saw movies, so I can’t say that we haven’t had good memories.
I unashamedly own the first seven films on DVD, and have watched them all several times with DVD commentary included. There’s just something about their convoluted nonsensical story that is super compelling; they clearly had no plan, with each subsequent movie made to explain all of the plot holes in the previous one. But I love that in a horror franchise. So many horror movies try so hard to make deep and extensive lore and canon, and it’s all so stupid.
Did you know Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) takes place during the 2008 financial crisis?
Pictured: Man, the recession really did a number on us, didn't it?
Did you know that Candyman 3: Day of the Dead (1999) is accidentally set during 2020, the same year as the new reboot, Candyman (2021)?
Pictured: Man, absolutely no one is social distancing.
Saw was a franchise that weirdly went down the opposite path, where the entire seven movies are either set during a two week period, or several years. No one can know for sure.
Pictured: This movie came out in 2010, and Linkin Park were definitely not relevant anymore.
It was the 8th installment, Jigsaw (2017), that really messed with the chronology by setting it ten years after the original, but also, TWIST, right before the originals.
Spiral (2021) thankfully goes down the route of “Saw happened in this universe, but this is not Saw”, which thankfully means that they don’t have to get weighed down by the confused lore and can just tell their own story…
No John Kramer.
No receptionist from Becker.
No two white cops who look exactly the same but apparently one of them is a bad guy.
Pictured: Self explanatory...
Just a new story with new characters that also know about Jigsaw.
Unfortunately, even without being directly connected to Saw, Spiral still decides to be needlessly convoluted and gets the events of previous films wrong. I mean, if you’re gonna say, “John Kramer never targeted cops,” you better make sure that at least 22 cops weren’t killed in the last eight movies. Like… it wasn’t hard to get that part right. Sure, this is explicitly targeting only cops, and maybe one meth-head, but still.
Pictured: This whole movie was about a cop!
Being predictable doesn’t make a bad movie, but the Saw movies have always relied upon their twist endings. Spiral (2021) had me feeling like I was two steps ahead of the screenwriter, to the point where the only reason I didn’t suspect the bad guy, was because it was too damn obvious. And then there’s the entire climax, which ends with the classic “Saw main character screaming and reaching out towards the villain as they make their escape,” and abrupt cut to black… except… the villain is right there… he is not really getting away that well… like, keep the film rolling for three more minutes and you’ve got him.
So Saw has always sat in this weird grey area, where people will say things like, “John Kramer isn’t a murderer; he has the right idea”. And by that I mean, people are idiots. John Kramer absolutely killed people. Remember when that cop just got shotgunned in the head? Remember when Becker’s receptionist specifically survived her first ordeal because she had to kill a guy? Remember when he burnt some guy's wife because he wrote Saw fan-fiction?
Pictured: Intellectual property laws gone too far!
John Kramer is a murderer.
There is no grey area.
Spiral is interesting, because it is definitely focusing on the corruption of the current Police system; a real systemic issue. And like Avengers: Infinity War (2018) before it, the villain kind of has a point. But at the same time, that villain is explicitly murdering people, and is inherently a bad person. He is doing murder crimes. This makes the message very confused, because it’s saying ACAB, but at the same time, it’s showing how ACAB people are unhinged murderers. So police are bad, but people who don’t like police are also bad? Everyone is bad? What point are you trying to make? At the same time, Chris Rock is the only undeniably good cop. So not ACAB? AC(exceptChrisRock)AB? Chris Rock is the only one we can trust? Is that what I’ve learnt?
Pictured: One good cop, letting the bad guy get away.
I look forward to both sides of the political spectrum using this movie as an example of why the other side is stupid and wrong.
Technically, Spiral (2021) works. Directed by the director of Saw II (2005), Saw III (2006) and Saw IV (2007), it definitely feels more a part of this universe than Jigsaw (2017) did. Jigsaw (2017) felt very clean, but this felt dirty, and it works.
I don’t usually talk about the colour grade, but this film is REALLY relying on its colour grade. It is a hot sweaty heat wave, and if you didn’t already know that from all the hot and sweaty cops, or the Police Chief talking about how there’s a heat wave, then don’t worry, we’ve got that hot orange look going on for you.
Pictured: Orange = Hot.
The gore is surprisingly reserved, seeming that is so much of what this franchise is known for. Not that it isn’t there, it most definitely is. There may be a guy exploding over the front of a train within the first ten minutes. But it’s still definitely reserved. More reserved, you know, than previous entries. Look, what I’m trying to say is that the gore looks good when it’s on screen, but it’s not overly gratuitous like the later entries. It’s a nice pleasant amount of guys getting their fingers ripped off.
I want to complain about the sound, but I’m afraid that, like Tenet (2020), I’m just getting old. Each scare was coupled with a loud screech, which made you physically jump out of your chair because the human body was not made for noises that loud. Even when you see the scare coming from a mile away, no amount of bracing yourself will stop you from jumping out of your seat. All I could think was, “turn that darn music down, you young whippersnappers,” but I was in a theatre filled with people most likely older than me, so I didn’t say anything.
Well, I didn’t get to touch any boobs in this one, which still means that Saw VI (2009) is the de facto best Saw film, but it was still a fun time. It lacked the unpredictability of the previous films, but it is still as dumb and fun as the others. I walked out complaining about it, but I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from a Saw film not complaining about it, so there’s no huge difference there.
It was surprisingly funny for a Saw film. I know, I know… It’s Chris Rock… and his first scene may just be a tight five about Forest Gump (1994), but I was still not expecting the amount of comedy, especially in the first half.
Pictured: a Pulp Fiction (1994) reference for some reason (it's out of focus, but trust me).
The second half, it was funny due to how stupid things got, but that’s still hella fun.
Pictured: Genuinely one of the funniest moments in the entire film.
If you like comedy, and you like Saw, but you don’t like Scary Movie 4 (2006), then this is the movie for you. I may complain, but I can’t wait to listen to the commentary so I can hear how the filmmakers justify their choices.