As you can tell from the title, shoutout Ricky for the help, recently released Spiral is my first ever movie in the entire Saw franchise. The first Saw movie came out in 2003 and at the young age of 6 years old, for whatever reason, it was never something that appealed to me. Actually horror movies in general were something I never quite was able to get into (because I was scared) until I, 16 at the time, was forced to go see The Conjuring in 2013. From then on, I have found a new appreciation for TRUE horror movies. Films like Us, Hereditary, and The VVitch all were movies that I found massive appeal in from a filmmaking and storytelling standpoint. From then, I was able to go back and watch some classic horror films like Rosemary’s Baby, Candyman, and The Exorcist and even have The Exorcist as one of my favorite movies of all-time.
However, among this “Horrorssance” in my film watching life, one specific type of horror movie I managed to steer clear of, and that was what I will call the “Saw” genre. The films where in which the horror of the movie comes in the form of grotesque and external responses instead of slow developing internal responses. The Saw films have always been a franchise in which the poster alone has forced me to steer clear of, which is weird in retrospect because the scene where James Franco cuts his arm off in 127 Hours is one of my favorite scenes of all-time. It doesn’t make any sense, I get that, but it’s just always been how I have viewed films, and the atmosphere that Saw seems to have has always kept me away from the franchise.
So, with this review, I didn’t want to just go through and do the standard type of review. I’m going to change it up, and instead see if this film answered the right amount of questions to make this an experience I at least understood, eventually leading up to the major question of: Do you need to watch the franchise to watch Saw?”
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SPIRAL AHEAD
Skip below the image if you want to avoid spoilers, but read my thoughts on the film, and if you can watch Spiral without seeing Saw.
Who is Jigsaw?
So, this is something they actually made pretty clear during the film in that the previous Jigsaw killer was John Kramer. You don’t learn much of anything about the person, just that he was the previous killer. This new killer however seemed to be one in a line of copycats that has been happening since the original killer passed away.
Why is he doing this?
Det. William Schenk (Max Minghella) is the killer in this film, and we learn that Schenk’s father was murdered by a dirty cop in front of Schenk thanks to something called “Article 8”, so in this film the killer is targeting the dirty cops within the system and is attempting to “cleanse” the system. We actually do get some insight into why John Kramer did his killings when Schenk talks about how Kramer believed “Spiral” was a symbol of change, evolution, and progress.
How are his victims chosen?
In Spiral, Schenk is picking dirty cops within the system for his killings. It’s pretty self explanatory as to why he is choosing his victims. However, we don’t know why the Kramer victims were chosen, but in context of this story it doesn’t really matter.
Why does he kill the way he does?
Schenk’s “Jigsaw”, I’m pretty sure, kills in ways similar to what the officers did or didn’t do when it came to the death of his father. At least in some aspects of it, it seems that way.
So, as for my thoughts on Spiral, I actually didn’t think it was the worst thing possible. I thought Chris Rock’s new turn was pretty exciting, and was maybe my favorite part of the whole movie. I, of course, am not accustomed to the previous Saw movies so I don’t know how aggressive the films are, but I did think there were clear moments of them trying to do far too much when it came to the screeching terror of the film. The detective work is what the film is mainly about, but there is still some brutal killings, and there were multiple moments in which I didn’t think my stomach would be able to handle what was going on. There were many easter eggs that I couldn’t point out myself which would probably work better for someone who has seen all of the films. The ending, however, is so abrupt I thought they just forgot to include one in the film. I absolutely despised it, and it is the sole reason this film dropped to below average for me.
Final Grade: C-
Can you watch Spiral without having seen the rest of the Saw franchise?
Short answer… yes. You can watch Spiral on its own and understand the singular movie. Now, when it comes to understanding the franchise as a whole, I don’t think you really get much insight. You understand what “Spiral” is itself, but there are clear references and easter eggs you’re bound to miss, and even though it mentions Kramer as the original killer, you don’t know his motives or even how he died. So while you can understand Spiral on its own, if you want to understand the franchise you might as well start at the original.
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.