Movie review: Spiral
In a somewhat desperate yet potentially genius attempt to reinvigorate the Saw torture porn franchise that supposedly ended with 2017's Jigsaw, its makers scored themselves a pair of big-name stars, Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson, on the marquee.
After all, two of the best contemporary entries in the horror genre were Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), with Daniel Kaluuya and Lupita Nyong'o putting in unforgettable lead performances respectively.
But Spiral's director Darren Lynn Bousman, who helmed Saw II, III and IV, is no Jordan Peele.
So as much as this ninth instalment tries to change things up, the formula stays mostly the same.
Neither Tobin Bell, who played John Kramer/Jigsaw in all the previous Saw films, nor Billy the puppet return.
Instead, we get a copycat killer and criminal mastermind who unleashes a twisted form of justice wearing a pig's head mask, delivering messages to his victims through a piggy marionette and leaving pig carcasses all over the place.
Why the fascination with swine?
Well, he is targeting only dirty cops in the police force and cleaning house.
While most of the Saw saga was populated by C-listers and unknowns, having Rock and Jackson in Spiral - which unfolds like a typical buddy-cop murder mystery - really adds that much more heft, legitimacy and entertainment value.
Rock is very watchable as the ethical hero Zeke Banks who ratted out his corrupt partner some 20 years ago only to find himself alienated from his colleagues, while Jackson plays Zeke's legendary retired police chief father.
And what is a Saw film without the trademark sadistic life-or-death games and nightmarish torture traps?
Gorehounds will naturally get a kick out of victims getting their tongues and fingers ripped off and flayed of their skin.
Maybe I am just numb to the whole shtick, but the so-called twist ending is not as clever as it thinks, and certainly pales in comparison with the classic jaw-dropper from the first Saw film.
Equally un-shocking is how Spiral abruptly concludes with a cliffhanger, paving the way for the franchise to limp towards the grand finale, Saw X. And boy am I dying to finally see it bleed out.
STARRING: Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella
DIRECTOR: Darren Lynn Bousman
THE SKINNY: Brash detective Zeke Banks (Rock) and his rookie partner (Minghella) investigate grisly murders that are eerily reminiscent of the Jigsaw killer’s work, but Zeke soon finds himself at the centre of a morbid game as he pieces together the final puzzle to stay alive.