My first trip in over a year to an indoor theater was a solo viewing of the new film in the resurrected SAW franchise. This is very much a surprise to me as it is the first of the series I have seen theatrically.
I’ve never been very impressed with the Saw films while being mildly amused by their twisted inventiveness in interlocking multiple plots across several movies to present a near incomprehensible series of events that seem to exist to….. well, to exist. Although they are talked about in hushed tones because of their blood-drenched murder set-pieces they have always been more interesting to me as the latest (many generations removed) descendants of the 1960’s krimi films from Germany and the 1970’s giallo films from Italy. Warped variations on the 1980’s slasher cycle, they celebrate the creativity of the hideous deaths inflicted while making the fans feel that they aren’t just wallowing in gore – there is a real mystery involved, dammit! Of course, the mystery is often so impossible to discern that the final revelations have to be spelled out with a series of flashbacks to make sure the crowd is aware of how clever the scriptwriter has been. It often seems a little like someone trying too hard to justify watching a horror movie. Just enjoy what you like to watch and be done with the silly aspirations to in-your-face creativity! If you want to see a bit of the old ultra-violence just step forward, buy your ticket and ignore the derisive looks from others. In twenty years the Saw films will be tame in comparison to the next variation on this theme. Trust me.
Sooooo……why did I go see SPIRAL (2021)? Well, it was a new horror film. Oh! And Chris Rock stars in this re-start of the series AND was involved in getting the film made. That sounded much more interesting than just another sequel. And, I have to admit, it was pretty darned good. Rock is the main reason the movie works as it has become clear that he is now one of the most interesting actors around. His facility with comedy enhances his ability to play serious roles and even allows him a believable tenderness when necessary. The rest of the cast is solid with Sam Jackson having to work a strange balancing act as a respected, retired cop with a few dark secrets but it is Chris Rock’s show. He lifts this slasher mystery on his back and carries it across the finish line.
The only downside for me was that the identity of the Jigsaw copycat killer was pretty easy to figure out. Not that the ride wasn’t pretty fun but I can’t be the only one able to note that when a SAW film doesn’t show us a grisly death but only tells us it happened…..it didn’t happen! But the movie is inventive in its approach to the material with Rock’s sharp-tongued cop character getting to toss off funny insults that make his reactions to the horrors onscreen feel decidedly real. SPIRAL feels more grounded than the previous films in the series and therefore more interesting. This isn’t a great movie but it is the first Saw movie I can imagine wanting to rewatch sometime in the future.