REVIEW

Spiral: From the Book of Saw sees Chris Rock take on franchise

Spiral: From the Book of Saw, R18+. 93 minutes. 3 stars

In the early days of cinema, a familiar figure was the moustache-twirling bad guy tying the heroine to a railway track. The modern audience watching those old hand-cranked silent films, its colourised characters moving just a fraction faster than real-life, sees right through the bad guy and the set-up. We've all spent our lives ingesting film and television and so we understand the stakes are low and the hero will come along at any moment.

But were early cinema audiences fooled? Did they believe the stakes? Did they pull their leg up onto their cinema chairs because they viscerally felt the danger like they were really in danger themselves?

I was pondering this in the opening moments of Spiral: From The Book of Saw as a man has been suspended above a subway track with a train fast approaching. My feet were up off the cinema floor, and I felt a little sick and wishing I hadn't just eaten.

The villain isn't twirling a moustache - they instead are wearing a pig's mask like this is The Purge and have set up an overly elaborate torture device for the man facing death-by-train involving removing his own tongue.

Will audiences in another hundred years watch this scene and laugh at its implausibility? Will they be so jaded this kind of torture porn is our equivalent of watching morning television infomercials?

The Saw franchise of horror films has seen eight entries, and while the many narrative threads woven across those films eventually unravelled themselves, this ninth entry only nods at the action of those previous films.

Marisol Nicholls and Chris Rock in Spiral: From the Book of Saw. Picture: Lionsgate

Marisol Nicholls and Chris Rock in Spiral: From the Book of Saw. Picture: Lionsgate

Produced by its lead actor Chris Rock, with writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger, this production suggests that the serial killer of the previous films may have a contemporary copy-cat.

Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) isn't popular at his station as he once turned in his crooked former partner. But the name-calling of his colleagues isn't as frustrating as the shadow cast by his father Marcus (Samuel L Jackson), the station's former Captain.

When it turns out the victim of the subway torture device was one of their police colleagues, their current Captain Garza (Marisol Nichols) assigns Zeke to lead the case and throws new recruit William Schenk (Max Minghella) his way as partner and protege.

As a series of deaths unfold with other officers falling victim to elaborate torture devices, it seems that the famed Jigsaw killer is being emulated and with Zeke's father missing it seems time is running out to identify and stop the killer.

Chris Rock is apparently something of a Saw fan and so imagine getting your hands on your favourite film series and shaping it with your own ideas. What he makes is probably closer to the David Fincher film Seven, a detective film with seriously dark undertones and moments of extreme violence. But also, because this is Chris Rock, actually some pretty funny dialogue.

As always, he does scream most of his dialogue, but it works as there are a lot of angry cops to shout over.

Director Darren Lynn Bousman has directed a handful of previous Saw films and seems to have set himself up for a few more pay cheques with the film strongly hinting at future entries. He certainly worked hard here with so many edits per minute they must have shot an awful lot of content.

In the previous films we saw the violence from the point of view of the victim, and here it is through the police investigating the aftermath. That said, there is still plenty of violence here and more than a few scream-inducing jump-scares.

This story Chris Rock takes on Saw franchise first appeared on The Canberra Times.