Many horror fans could not believe their luck when it was announced that both Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson had added their names and talents to a Saw spin-off. With many expecting something different to what has come before in the franchise, how has Spiral: From the Book of Saw fared with critics now that the first reviews are out?
Beginning with Meagan Navarro of Bloody Disgusting, who gave the movie an impressive 4 out of 5, Spiral does indeed add something different to the long-running Saw formula, subverting expectations and taking the franchise in a whole new direction.
"Spiral brings style and substance, with a few chuckles to balance the gore. For this standalone entry, Bousman subverts familiarity and reinvigorates the franchise by evolving the universe."
Comicbook.com critic Patrick Cavanaugh echoed some of these sentiments, praising the movie's decision to focus on character as well as inventive death sequences, though he could not help but feel let down when Spiral did revert to more expected elements.
"Spiral: From the Book of Saw almost immediately shows off just how much more entertaining and impressive a sequel in the series can be when it focuses on story and character as opposed to unsettling the audience, but it fails to come out from under its own legacy, still culminating in an "unexpected" finale. Longtime fans will surely appreciate the new approach to the concept, yet it offers little to win over those doubtful about how much potential the concept ever had in the first place."
Lovia Gyarkye of The Hollywood Reporter was much more critical of the movie, feeling that, while it will satisfy gore fans, Spiral fails to fully explore the more interesting themes that it puts forward.
"Spiral delivers when it comes to gore, if that's your thing, and appropriately dour aesthetics - but not much else. That's a shame, because the story's themes, from the unreformable nature of the police department to the cost of integrity in a space that values power above all else, could not be more relevant. If the mission was, as Bousman has suggested, to create a Saw film driven by a strong narrative instead of gruesome torture, it hasn't been fully accomplished."
These sentiments were echoed by both Flickering Myth's Robert Kojder and Siddhant Adlakha of IGN Movies, both of whom felt that the more timely, socially conscious storyline was left far too underdeveloped. "Focusing on detective investigations and corruption is sound and socially conscious, but the result is some of the most disrespectful and clichéd execution imaginable that makes a mockery out of the serious themes it already chose to address," said Kojder, with Adlakha saying, "It's a hollow imitation of the series, unable to meet its most basic visual and narrative expectations. It's also a bad film in general, which tries to tell a socially relevant story that it can't seem to handle."
That's not to say that Spiral won't impress some cinemagoers however, with Collider's Matt Goldberg even likening the movie to David Fincher's seminal serial killer outing, Se7en. Though he does make it very clear that Fincher's movie is far superior...
"Spiral still offers the gory traps that have served as the franchise's trademark, but it would be a stretch to call it a "horror" film. Darren Lynn Bousman's movie is more in the realm of a film like Se7en where cops are racing to stop a serial killer with a particular axe to grind. However, unlike David Fincher's classic movie, Spiral feels redundant in its plotting even as it grasps for some vague commentary on how to deal with bad cops."
AV Club's Katie Rife meanwhile was far from enamoured by Spiral, in large part thanks to a build-up of criticisms that result in the finale not landing as it should have.
"Rock, for his part, puts on a screwed-up scowl that deepens with every new corpse, while Jackson's performance remains glib even when his character's circumstances grow quite serious indeed. They're both burdened by some truly unfortunate facial hair in the film's flashback scenes, one inelegant exposition detail among many. These little inconsistencies and indignities pile up, each one chipping away at the shock value until the reveal of the killer's master plan lands like a peanut butter sandwich that's been sat on for a few hours."
While Variety's Owen Gleiberman did feel that Spiral failed to change the formula up enough, they did admit that it should provide a gory delight for the already established fanbase. "Yes, these are life lessons! And no, the Saw series hasn't really changed," he said. "So depending on whether you're a fan or not, eat up...or throw up."
Jordan Farley of Total Film though should assure those looking forward to Spiral: From the Book of Saw, describing the movie as the best kind of reboot, and feeling that it had in fact achieved exactly what director Darren Lynn Bousman and star Chris Rock had set out to, breathing new life into the Saw franchise.
"That a formula as well-trodden as Saw's can still surprise, delight, and make you feel like you need a quick shower after is impressive. But Spiral is also that rarest of reboots - one that will satisfy series die-hards and a whole new generation of horror nuts. Well played."
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, and written by Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger, Spiral stars Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, and Samuel L. Jackson, and follows brash detective Ezekiel "Zeke" Banks, who is currently working a case in the shadow of an esteemed police veteran, his father Marcus Banks. Along with his partner, William Schenk, Ezekiel takes charge of a grisly investigation into murders that are eerily reminiscent of the city's gruesome past. Unwittingly trapped in a deepening mystery, Zeke finds himself at the center of the killer's morbid game.
Originally scheduled to be released in May 2020, Spiral was delayed due to the ongoing global situation, and will now be theatrically released in the United States on May 14, 2021, by Lionsgate.