The new Saw film tries to do one or two slightly different things with the franchise, whilst not straying too far: here’s our Spiral review.

It’s taken to the ninth film in the Saw series for the horror franchise to finally take a bit of time out and dissect the film Forrest Gump, but Spiral: From The Book Of Saw is barely up and running before Chris Rock’s Detective Ezekial Banks has some words to say about the Oscar-winning 90s hit. It sets the tone for a slightly different – although not radically different – entry in the Saw franchise, a film that juggles being a mix of something old and new. All on a noticeably frugal budget.

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The old? Well, by this stage most of know what we’re getting from one of these films. There are traps that human beings are put in, and decisions for said humans to make if they want to escape them. Those decisions generally involve accepting some loss of body parts as penance for previous sins, and Spiral makes sure you’re not short-changed in that department. The traps are present, they are gruesome, there’s a sporting chance you’ll wince. Blood is duly splattered.

But what this particular feature also does is bring in some comedy, and a little dose of the old mismatched cops dynamic that permeated so many 80s and 90s films. Rock’s character therefore finds himself working with a rookie detective played by Max Minghella – and he ain’t happy about it – with the pair of them having to get to the bottom of who’s behind the latest raft of killings. Those killings are on the extreme side, and may or may not involve Banks’ father, who just happens to be played by Samuel L Jackson. The word ‘Jigsaw’ is banded around a lot too, just in case you ever forget what franchise this happens to be.

If the inclusion of Rock – who helped develop the story – feels like some degree of stunt casting from the outside, it proves the opposite once we’re up and motoring. He’s as committed to the horror angle of the film as the lighter material, and it mixes up the tone a little having him headlining.

The involvement too of director Darren Lynn Bousman, who helmed the earlier Saw sequels, keeps the balance on the horror as well, all working from a script by Jigsaw writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger.

It’s all a bit of a generally successful, breezy balancing act, not least because Spiral feels like it’s caught between tying itself to the rest of the franchise and also breaking away into its own thing. As such, whilst Rock and Jackson may well bring in new converts, when it settles it’s still very much along the same lines as what we’ve had before. By the time we’re into the last half hour, it all feels very familiar.

Yet I quite enjoyed Spiral. It pulls back a little from the absolute extremities and nastiness of some of the earlier Saws, and whilst it’s not the hardest story to second guess and the whole ride feels less radical than it may initially hint, I enjoyed it more than any Saw film in a long time.

You still need a stomach for it of course, and it doesn’t stray far from the formula. But Spiral nonetheless offers an entertaining, bloody and surprisingly funny 93 minutes. There was perhaps a more ambitious path in all of this, that Spiral opts not to take. But it still feels like a baby step forward.

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