By Kurt Jensen | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Given that “Spiral: From the Book of Saw” (Lionsgate) is the ninth installment — albeit, technically, a reboot — in the soul-coarsening “Saw” franchise, its release prompts reflection on who would find these films entertaining.
The answer seems to be people who would have bought tickets to public executions, back when those existed.
Obviously, these gross-out nihilistic gore fests have been profitable. But their questionable appeal seems to be to something even lower than base instincts. Indeed, the series had the “torture porn” label slapped on it from the 2004 original onward.
In this entry, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger build the mayhem around the framework of a police procedural.
Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) is investigating the torture-murder of a fellow police officer. The foul-mouthed and short-tempered Banks has a deeply troubled past, involving ostracism by his peers after he reported one for the murder of a civilian, a bitter divorce and a difficult relationship with his father, Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson), the former police chief.
The gruesome doings start when Detective Marv Boswick (Daniel Petronijevic) is trapped in a subway tunnel, not by John Kramer, the vigilante known as Jigsaw who died in a previous movie, but by a copycat wearing a pig mask. Billy, the doom-proclaiming marionette of the earlier pictures, is likewise replaced by a porcine puppet.
The new killer is out to reform the police force by slaughtering rogue cops, and his modus operandi is unchanged: a torture session in which the victim is given a phony choice of some type of dismemberment or death, then gets both, with much attendant splatter.
Boswick’s “choice” is to have his tongue ripped out or be hit by a speeding train. Later victims have fingers torn away or are skinned, drowned, flayed with broken glass or shot.
The false “moral” element in the franchise rests on the idea that all its victims have either done something horrible or have somehow failed to appreciate the lives they’ve led, and therefore “deserve” to die in some gruesome manner. In this iteration, however, the fatalities also include characters for whom past wrongdoing has not been established.
The copycat sends Zeke grisly souvenirs of the deaths, recordings explaining his motives and a clue on how to find the site of the next slaying. If Zeke ever arrived in the nick of time, of course, there would be no further plot.
Horror films are being heavily marketed as a way of luring audiences back into theaters as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes. But those concerned for their mental as well as physical health will steer clear of this perverse celebration of sadism.
The film contains a vengeance theme, pervasive gory violence, including hideous torture, frequent profanities and much rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.