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Spiral: From the Book of Saw (4K Ultra HD)
Remember when it wasn't Halloween if it wasn't Saw? The popular horror franchise spawned from the 2004 hit from James Wan churned out six quick sequels over the next six years. Unfortunately, the law of diminishing returns mandated increasingly mediocre movies, and the delayed seventh sequel, Jigsaw, was not the successful resurrection the franchise desired. Now, Darren Lynn Bousman, director of Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV, returns with a spinoff film, Spiral: From the Book of Saw. With its flashy marketing and poster campaign, I was not quite sure what to make of the film when I watched the preview. Chris Rock, playing it straight as a jaded detective investigating a Jigsaw copycat killer? This actually works fairly well, and Rock, who wanted to take his career in a new direction, apparently pitched the idea to a Lionsgate executive. Spiral occasionally bites off more than it can chew, tackling the recent hot topic of police corruption amid some ghastly murder scenes, but, for a film I was not necessarily looking forward to, it gets the franchise mostly back on track.
The film opens with an off-duty officer chasing a thief into the sewers during a July 4th parade. He is soon attacked by a figure in a pig mask and later awakens, suspended by his tongue, in a subway tunnel. Tear out the tongue that lied so often during in-court testimony or die, the man must make his choice. Needless to say, things do not end well, and Lt. Ezekiel "Zeke" Banks (Rock) takes over the death investigation. It hits close to him, as the man was one of the few who backed him when he turned in his corrupt partner years earlier, causing much disgrace for the department and his father, then Chief Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson). Banks fears a Jigsaw copycat killer is on the loose as more cops are murdered in gruesome ways, and he enlists young partner William Schenk (Max Minghella) to help solve the case. If Jigsaw was a disappointing origin story for the entire franchise, then Spiral attempts to use its legacy to move in a different direction. It is clear the film is punishing those in law enforcement who lie, cheat and allow others to do the same. Although the film began pre-production a year before George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, it certainly courts recent hot-button issues. This conversation is fairly surface-level, but the these themes carry all the way through the bloody climax.
I recently rewatched the original Saw for its 4K Ultra HD debut, and it holds up well, Cary Elwes' occasional over-performing notwithstanding. I enjoyed some of the early sequels, but lost interest as the franchise ran out of gas. Spiral, at least to my memory, is one of the most violent entries, and there are some truly cringe-worthy traps and kills here. Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger's script is fairly blunt, crafting stock characters and situations, but the film is fairly well acted, particularly by Rock and Minghella. Tobin Bell, the original Jigsaw, is certainly missed, and it took me a few minutes to get used to the high-pitched voice who now asks the unlucky, "Do you want to play a game?" The film follows the same basic formula of the original and its early sequels, complete with a sudden, explosive climax and reveal. If red herrings, coincidences and reveals without explanation are particularly bothersome to you, then Spiral may not be your cup of tea. Spiral also tips its hand too early about what's going on, which mutes some of the later surprises. Nevertheless, Bousman and Rock have created a film that entertains and at least moves the franchise forward in a positive direction.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Ugly kills, gorgeous picture. This 2.39:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 image from a native 4K source offers HDR10 and looks fantastic. This digitally shot production is razor-sharp, with insane amounts of detail in all areas, from close-ups of facial features and set dressings to landscape shots. The 4K offers wonderful shadow detail and inky blacks. The film uses striking, bold colors at times, and the HDR pass only improves their detail and appearance. Highlights are pleasing, color saturation is perfect, and the film looks excellent in motion. Bold, crisp and practically crawling off the screen, this is an excellent 4K presentation totally free of technical defects.
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, is similarly excellent, with strong element spacing, surround response and LFE support. Dialogue is crisp and clean, ambient noise surrounds the viewer, and action effects are off the charts. Every creak, moving trap and deadly demise is treated to full 360-degree soundtrack action, which places the viewer directly amid the chaos. The score and soundtrack selections are also weighty and sound excellent. I noticed no issues with crowding or distortion. French and Spanish dubs and English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are available.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc release includes the 4K Ultra HD disc, a Blu-ray, and a digital copy code. The discs are packed in a standard case that is wrapped in a striking slipcover. Extras include an Audio Commentary by Director Darren Lynn Bousman, Co-Screenwriter Josh Stolberg and Composer Charlie Clouser; an Audio Commentary by Producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg; The Consequences of Your Actions: Creating Spiral (59:05/HD), a strong documentary about the franchise and this film; Drawing Inspiration: Illustrated Trap Breakdowns (8:45/HD), in which Bousman discusses the kill sequences; Decoding the Marking of Spiral (6:12/HD), and two Trailers (4:09 total/HD).
This Chris Rock-starring spinoff to the Saw franchise is not perfect, but it does offer an entertaining, bloody ride that is superior to the later sequels. Lionsgate's 4K Ultra HD release of Spiral offers excellent picture and sound and some solid extras. Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.