Review by Hannah Strong @thethirdhan

Directed by

Darren Lynn Bousman


Chris Rock Morgan David Jones Samuel L Jackson


Could be time for a renaisawnce.


Rock and Jackson are great; the rest, not so much.

In Retrospect.

An earnest, overproduced piece of Saw fanfiction without the cheap thrills.

This procedural thriller reboot of the Saw franchise is painful to sit through for all the wrong reasons.

Long-time fans of James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s tricksy torture franchise Saw were a little surprised in 2019, when, seemingly out of nowhere, came the announcement that renowned funnyman Chris Rock was to develop a new instalment into the canon. It was two years after the underwhelming performance of the Spierig Brothers’ Jigsaw, and the series’ future looked uncertain, but there’s nothing the Saw films like more than a left-field plot twist.

Reinstating director Darren Lynn Bousman – who directed the second, third and fourth instalments of the original Saw series – and bringing some upgraded star power in the form of Samuel L Jackson and Max Minghella as well as Rock himself in the lead role, Spiral: From the Book of Saw was quickly established to be a reboot rather than a direct sequel, existing in the same world as the Saw franchise but not featuring any actors from previous films, including Tobin Bell, who had previously appeared in every instalment as the nefarious mastermind John Kramer, aka Jigsaw.

Keen to strike out on its own, the film makes some noticeable changes early on. Gone is Billy the Puppet, emblem of the franchise, and where the unsettlingly flat voice of Kramer used to provide instructions via video tape to his victims, now there’s a figure in a pig mask who sounds like Kermit the Frog using a voice modulator. While change is necessary to breathe new life into an established set of IP, too much can be a bad thing, and threatens to remove the elements which viewers enjoyed (though, is that really the right word here?) in the first place.

Where the previous eight films plumbed the depths of depravity to dispatch humans in the most elaborate and gruesome ways possible, thinly justified by an extensive amount of Saw lore, Spiral operates more in the vein of David Fincher’s Se7en or – less generously – an extended episode of CSI, where most of the focus is on the detectives trying to track down the killer rather than the grizzly murders themselves. This might be a positive for the more squeamish viewer, but hardened gore fiends might be a little underwhelmed, even if the few traps that do crop up are every bit as unpleasant as anything dreamt up by their predecessors.

Rock is a charismatic choice for the role of Detective Zeke Banks, who has become something of a black sheep in his department since he reported his crooked partner to internal affairs. He’s partnered with rookie William Schenk (Max Minghella) to hunt down a psychopath who is stalking Banks’ colleagues and taunting the detective with macabre gifts – all of which reminds him of a certain celebrity serial killer, long thought to be dead and buried. Factor in Jackson as Zeke’s legendary cop father, and the stage is set for all manner of funny games, but in the biggest twist of all, Spiral just doesn’t lean into the source material enough for a satisfying pay-off.

The whole production feels more expensive, from the talent in front of the camera to the sets and camerawork, which do away with the trademark blur effects and motion-sickness-inducing zooms (although, crucially, the film does at least retain the Saw theme, known as ‘Hello Zepp’). It’s Saw taken more seriously than before, even if Rock’s occasional outbursts threaten to derail that by evoking the spirit of Marty the Zebra from Madagascar.

This might be part of the problem: the hokeyness of the Saw films was always part of their (limited) charm. By making everything that bit more polished, Spiral loses part of the essence that gave the originals films their appeal. It’s Saw in name but not in spirit – even the grand reveal is undermined by the fact that even a franchise newcomer could see it coming from space.

Meanwhile, the film’s ‘not all cops’ throughline is unfortunately timed given the increasingly vocal calls to defund the police across the US and the UK, meaning that a film about corrupt officers being saved from a moralising serial killer doesn’t really give audiences anyone to root for. In fact, it’s never entirely clear who Spiral has been made for – it’s neither gory enough to satisfy the hardcore Saw set, nor ambitious enough to entertain as a procedural thriller.

There are a few interesting set-pieces, and the cast have a good time chewing up the scenery, but by moving too far away from what made Saw memorable in the first place, this reboot feels more like a footnote than the next chapter.

Published 17 May 2021

Tags: Chris Rock Darren Lynn Bousman Samuel L Jackson Spiral Spiral: From the Book of Saw


Could be time for a renaisawnce.


Rock and Jackson are great; the rest, not so much.

In Retrospect.

An earnest, overproduced piece of Saw fanfiction without the cheap thrills.

Suggested For You

Why David Fincher’s Se7en is the perfect odd couple movie

By Lorna Codrai

As detectives Mills and Somerset, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman make for a dynamic, contradictory pairing.

Every Video Nasty ranked from worst to best

By Little White Lies

Cannibals! Nazis! Cannibal Nazis! Our definitive guide to the most notorious movies ever made.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the sound of violence

By Stephen Puddicombe

It may not be the most iconic piece of film music, but Tobe Hooper’s organic, visceral soundtrack is uniquely unsettling.

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.