You dont have to know a thing about the horror movie Saw or its spawn before watching the latest movie in the franchise, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, opening in theaters on Friday.
But if youre curious to know more about what helped Saw slice through the competition and why Spiral, starring Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson, might be worth checking out, heres a primer.
James Wans low-budget indie horror oddity Saw landed on the film festival circuit in 2004, and became a sleeper hit thanks to a diabolical story and hair-raising performances by Cary Elwes (the swashbuckler Westley from The Princess Bride) and Leigh Whannell (who wrote the screenplay). The macabre story is about two men isolated in a grimy death trap of a room, where theyre forced by a madman, known as the Jigsaw Killer, to undergo brutal morality-testing games to escape alive. Danny Glover plays a detective obsessed with catching the killer.
Wan was a 27-year-old unknown when Saw came out; hes now a Hollywood bigwig known for directing blockbuster horror (The Conjuring), action (Furious 7) and superhero movies (Aquaman). Whannell, who starred in Wans original Saw short film, went on to write horror megahits, including Wans Insidious, and also to direct (his credits include last years The Invisible Man).
The original Saw cost just $1.2 million to make and grossed more than $103 million globally. With eight films in the Saw franchise, most recently Jigsaw in 2017, the series is now one of the highest-grossing horror movie franchises and is credited with helping usher in the torture porn era of horror filmmaking.
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV), Spiral starts a new chapter in the Saw universe, an extension that Lionsgate no doubt hopes will again result in box office gold.
Rock stars as Zeke Banks, a seen-it-all detective who reluctantly works with a rookie (Max Minghella) to investigate a series of murders of police officers that, by the look of the gruesome crime scenes, appear to be the work of the Jigsaw Killer. Samuel L. Jackson plays Zekes father, a police veteran, and Marisol Nichols plays the police chief.
Rock has said hes a fan of the Saw films, and he came up with the idea for this new iteration.
Mainstream horror still doesnt feature many Black leads, so Spiral is a welcome departure from the genres whiteness. It will also be interesting to see Rock tackle a dramatic role, as he recently did in the series Fargo.
The Jigsaw Killer, better known as just Jigsaw, is the bloodthirsty maniac who orchestrates sick little games for people he thinks dont deserve to live. He communicates via a dapper ventriloquists dummy with a white face, red beady eyes, a red lip and signature red swirls on his cheeks. The killer has a fascinating back story revealed in one of the original films biggest twists.
Jigsaw doesnt have the name recognition of villains like Jason or Freddy, but he has a devoted fan base. In Spiral, his catchphrase I want to play a game is delivered in a digitally distorted voice that sounds like what a perverse and unforgiving psycho would sound like. (It also, strangely, has the flat affect of the Midwest.)
Thats a tough question to answer. Horror fans love Saw, and might enjoy Spiral for its ingeniously cruel tests, gory outcomes and what would you do? scenarios. For gorehounds, the pleasure comes with each scene of graphic and fantastic carnage at the hands of contraptions that make an iron maiden look like a Sit n Spin.
If you can stomach watching people make terrifying decisions that result in a blood bath of severed limbs and dramatic deaths, these films are for you. If not, steer clear.
The original. (Stream it on HBO Max or rent it on Amazon Prime.) The first Saw succeeds because its most grueling scenes take place in one room, giving it the feel of a very intimate, if bloodcurdling, play. It values storytelling over butchery (of which theres still plenty), and does so with elements of raw exploitation but also Grand Guignol chamber drama. For some critics it was too real; Stephen Holden, in his review for The New York Times, said parts of Saw bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the horrors of Abu Ghraib.
The Saw sequel and the latter films have their merits, especially in some of the more spectacularly devised deaths. But they are too often overwhelmed by plot twists, overlapping story lines and contradictory timelines.
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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero