Spiral (2021 film)

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Spiral Official Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDarren Lynn Bousman
Produced by
Written by
Music byCharlie Clouser
CinematographyJordan Oram
Edited byDev Singh
Distributed byLionsgate
Release date
  • May 14, 2021 (2021-05-14) (United States)
Running time
93 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million[2]
Box office$12 million[3]

Spiral: From the Book of Saw, or simply Spiral, is a 2021 American horror film that serves as the first spin-off in the Saw film series. It is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, his fourth film of the series, and written by Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger. The film stars Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, and Samuel L. Jackson, and follows police efforts to stop a Jigsaw copycat killer. The original creators of the series, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, serve as executive producers alongside Rock.

Talks of another Saw installment began after the release of Jigsaw in 2017, with Chris Rock wanting to branch out into the horror genre. The Spierig Brothers, who directed Jigsaw, were interested in returning for another film but eventually decided against it. The project was officially announced in May 2019, with Rock polishing a script by Stolberg and Goldfinger. The rest of the cast joined in July, with filming taking place in Toronto through August.

Originally scheduled to be released in May 2020, Spiral was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and was theatrically released in the United States on May 14, 2021, by Lionsgate. The film received mixed reviews from critics, who praised the performances as well as the franchise's new direction but were divided on the execution of its storyline and pacing.


During a Fourth of July parade, an off-duty cop, Det. Marv Boswick, chases a thief down a sewer drainage pipe. Attacked from behind by a figure wearing a pig mask, Boswick wakes to find himself suspended by his tongue in an active subway tunnel and is given a choice via recorded message: tear out his tongue and live, or remain until the next train arrives, killing him. Unable to escape the trap in time, Boswick is run over by the train and killed. The next day, police chief Angie Garza assigns Det. Ezekiel "Zeke" Banks a new partner, idealistic rookie William Schenk. Banks and Schenk investigate Boswick's death and Banks realizes this to be similar to the now deceased Jigsaw Killer.

Meanwhile, a homicide detective named Fitch – who several years prior had ignored a backup call from Banks, resulting in him nearly getting killed – is abducted and placed in a trap where he must rip his fingers off to avoid electrocution in a filling water basin; he also fails to escape and dies. Some officers begin to suspect that Banks may be responsible, due to his history with Fitch. A box then arrives at the station, containing a pig puppet and a piece of Schenk's tattooed skin inside. A small vial inside the box directs the police to a butcher shop, which was previously a hobby shop that Banks and his father, retired chief Marcus Banks, would go to. Upon arriving, the team discovers a tape recorder and a skinned corpse, identified as Schenk. Deciding to track down the killer himself, Marcus travels to a warehouse, where he is abducted. Shortly afterwards, Garza is kidnapped, and placed in a trap in the precinct's cold storage where she has to sever her spinal cord on a blade to stop hot wax flowing from a pipe onto her face; she manages to successfully sever her spine but dies of her injures, with her body found by Banks.

While chasing a lead, Banks is captured and wakes up at the warehouse, handcuffed to a pipe with a hacksaw nearby. He considers sawing off his arm, but is able to escape using a loose bobby pin. He then discovers Pete, his former partner who was fired when Banks exposed a murder he committed, chained in place. In front of him is a large glass-crushing machine, which has been modified to hurl shrapnel at him at high speed; a tape recorder explains that Banks can choose to either free him or leave him to die. Although Banks attempts to save Pete, he dies from blood loss. Moving to another room, Banks then finds Schenk, who is revealed to have faked his death by using the skinned corpse of the thief who lured Boswick into the tunnels, and has been the copycat all along. He explains that the person Pete murdered was Schenk's father, who was shot because he had agreed to testify against a dirty cop. He also reveals that Marcus, during his time as chief, deliberately protected corrupt officers (including Garza) in order to "clean" the streets of crime more efficiently.

Believing that Banks can be an ally, Schenk presents him with a final test, revealing Marcus restrained in the air and slowly being drained of blood. Schenk used his cell phone to dial 9-1-1 and claims that he is a civilian being pursued by a shooter, resulting in the dispatcher sending a SWAT team to his location. He hands Banks a revolver with a single bullet, and offers him the choice to either use the last bullet to shoot a target that will save Marcus but allow Schenk to escape, or to kill Schenk and let his father bleed to death. Banks decides to shoot the target to save Marcus, causing his restraints to loosen and lowering him to the ground, and then begins to fight Schenk. Shortly after, the SWAT team arrives and inadvertently triggers a tripwire, causing Marcus's restraints to yank him upward again. A gun is revealed to be affixed to his arm, and when the restraints pull it upward, the SWAT team mistakes him for a shooter and kills him. Banks can't do anything but scream in anguish as Schenk escapes.


Additionally, Tobin Bell, who played John Kramer / Jigsaw in all previous Saw films, does not return in the film, making Spiral the first film in the franchise to not star Bell nor feature the Jigsaw character onscreen beyond photographs. Bousman explained that the film's killer is a "Jigsaw copycat" who differentiates from the original Jigsaw, stating his intention to not recast Bell in the iconic role.[7] Bell had expressed interest in returning as Jigsaw as long as the script was good and expressed interest in delving into the origins of Billy the Puppet.[8]



According to Chris Rock, the origins of Spiral came from a chance meeting with the vice chairman of Lionsgate, Michael Burns, at a friend's wedding in Brazil, and he felt doing something in the horror genre would be a new avenue to take in his career, though he planned to include some comedic elements in the film.[9] Rock approached Lionsgate with his ideas of extending the franchise, who became very interested in the concept.[10] Lionsgate's CEO Joe Drake said that Rock's idea was "completely reverential to the legacy of the material while reinvigorating the brand with his wit, creative vision and passion for this classic horror franchise".[11] By January 2018, industry rumors had said that Lionsgate had begun discussions of a ninth Saw film, for which the Spierig Brothers would not be returning.[12] The directors confirmed in an interview with Screen Rant that their film laid the ground work for future sequels.[13] By April 2018, Twisted Pictures was developing a sequel with Jigsaw writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger.[14] An early iteration of the script had Rock's character related to Danny Glover's David Tapp from the first film. Stolberg and Goldfinger opted not to go in this direction as it "didn't pass the smell test."[15]


On May 16, 2019, the film was officially in pre-production.[11] Former series director Darren Lynn Bousman returned to helm the film, along with series veterans Mark Burg and Oren Koules as producers. Rock was involved as an executive producer, in addition to writing the story treatment. The original Saw creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell, along with Daniel Heffner, joined Rock as executive producers.[16] Stolberg and Goldfinger were confirmed as scriptwriters.[11] With the announcement, Rock stated, "I've been a fan of Saw since the first film in 2004. I am excited by the opportunity to take this to a really intense and twisted new place."[11] Burg and Koules said that Rock's treatment of Saw was comparable to what Eddie Murphy had done for buddy cop films in 48 Hrs., giving the Saw series a "completely fresh perspective".[11] Likewise, Bousman stated that in comparison to previous entries, Spiral included less violence and gore, expressing the conviction that the gore and violence were the gimmick for him back when he started working in the Saw films, but that both elements now serve the story, which focuses more on character, tension and fear.[17] As the film's killer is a Jigsaw copycat who differentiates from the original, it was decided to replace Billy the Puppet with a new puppet, as Bousman felt that if the original Jigsaw is replaced, the original puppet should go and be replaced with a new one so the new killer can't be compared.[7] Stolberg also confirmed that the ninth installment would exist in the same canon as the previous eight films, and would not be a reboot or a direct sequel to Jigsaw.[18]


On July 8, 2019, principal photography commenced in Toronto, Ontario, under the working title of The Organ Donor, with cinematographer Jordan Oram.[19] Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella, and Marisol Nichols were announced to be starring in the film.[20][21] Lionsgate's CEO Joe Drake stated, "We think Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Rock along with Max Minghella and Marisol Nichols make this film completely special in the Saw canon and we can't wait to unleash this unexpected and sinister new story on fans of this franchise. This is next level of Saw on full tilt".[22] According to Bousman, a scene featuring a trap had to be cut from the film due to it being "too gnarly".[23] On August 28, 2019, filming officially wrapped up.[24] During post-production, editing was completed by Dev Singh.[25]



Spiral was released in the United States on May 14, 2021, by Lionsgate.[26] The film was originally scheduled to be released on October 23, 2020, but was moved up to May 15, 2021.[27] As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the film's release was later delayed to May 21, 2021, taking the spot previously scheduled for John Wick: Chapter 4.[28][29] It was later pushed up to May 14, 2021, as theaters began reopening.[26]


The film was known under the working title The Organ Donor,[30] until the name Spiral was leaked to the press on January 22, 2020, along with Mongrel Media as the Canadian distributor.[31] The first teaser poster and trailer, released on February 5, 2020, confirmed Spiral as the title of the film.[32]


Box office[edit]

As of May 16, 2021, Spiral has grossed $8.7 million in the United States and Canada, and $3.3 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $12 million.[3]

Domestically Spiral was released alongside Those Who Wish Me Dead, Profile, and Finding You, and was projected to gross $11–13 million in its opening weekend.[2] The film made $3.7 million on its first day (including $750,000 from Thursday night previews), lowering projections to $9 million. It went on to debut to $8.7 million, topping the box office (the sixth time for the series) but marking the lowest opening weekend of the franchise. The audience was 58% male, and 75% under the age of 35.[33]

Critical response[edit]

Critics praised Spiral's "attempts at changing up the franchise formula" but said it "ultimately falls short of giving Saw the major boost it needed to regain relevance."[34] On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 38% of 157 reviews are positive, with an average rating of 5.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads "Spiral: From the Book of Saw suggests an interesting new direction for the Saw franchise, even if the gory sum is rather less than its parts."[35] According to the review aggregator Metacritic, which sampled 29 reviews and calculated a weighted average of 39 out of 100, Spiral received "generally unfavorable reviews".[36] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B–" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported 63% of audience members gave it a positive score, with 43% saying they would definitely recommend it.[33]

In his review for Variety, Owen Gleiberman wrote that the film "takes an unexpected twist or two but considering that [...] it's a thriller pegged to the issue of police immorality, the film confronts that theme in a weirdly untopical, almost garishly generic way."[37] William Bibbiani of the TheWrap wrote: "The screenplay captures the grizzled-cop-movie tone and draws some memorable characters, but the storyline is rote, the mystery is frustratingly predictable, and the imaginative deaths are less imaginative than ever. Spiral sacrifices entertainment value for respectability and in the process doesn't quite achieve either."[38]

From The Hollywood Reporter, Lovia Gyarkye found Spiral to be "a legitimately frightening, if unevenly paced, detective thriller" while also criticizing its screenplay for failing to convey the "potential tensions" between the father-and-son relationship of its main characters.[39] The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle gave praise to the acting and Spiral's "straightforward but compelling premise" but also gave remarks to the voice of the mysterious killer, who he said sounded like Kermit the Frog, and said that "for this movie's real audience, the screams and the gore aren't things to be endured. They're actually the appeal."[40]

Benjamin Lee of The Guardian gave the film one star out of five and criticized its ending, writing that he felt it was "rushed and half-assed" and "stupidly written and worst of all increasingly dull", ending his review by saying "Game over."[41] Brian Tallerico, in his one star and a half review for RogerEbert.com, gave the film negative remarks for its tone and Darren Lynn Bousman's direction, which he said disappointed him due to his praise for the cast, calling it "downright illegible" for its lack of tension, story, and progression in the plot.[42] From The New York Times, Lena Wilson praised the opening scene but found it to be the only good part of the film, summarizing it by writing that "the premise is disingenuous at best and [...] fearmongering at worst. Like Jigsaw offering one of his facile riddles, this film is not as clever as it thinks it is."[43]



In April 2021, a sequel film, titled Saw X, was confirmed to be in development with Twisted Pictures.[44] However, Bousman stated that it was a premature announcement that surprised him and the film's producers. He said, "Just because we made Spiral doesn't mean Saw ceases to exist. Just because Spiral is here, that doesn't mean there won't be a Saw IX. This is not the ninth film in the Saw franchise. There easily could be a Saw IX that follows Jigsaw. I think they're waiting to see how [Spiral] goes and how audiences respond to determine what happens next."[45]

Television series[edit]

In an April 2021 interview with Deadline Hollywood, Lionsgate Television chairman Kevin Beggs announced that Lionsgate TV is in early talks to develop a television series based on Spiral, alongside Mark Burg and Oren Koules' Twisted Television productions.[46]


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External links[edit]