WARNING: All spoilers from previous films in the Saw franchise are unmarked here. Read on or go back—make your choice.
Spiral (fully titled as Spiral: From the Book of Saw) is the ninth film in the Saw horror film series. Darren Lynn Bousman (who previously directed Saw II, III and IV) returned to the franchise as director, with Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger from the previous entry returning as writers. The film stars Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella, and Marisol Nichols.
Spiral tells the story of detective Zeke Banks (Rock) and his rookie partner William Schenk (Minghella) as they begin investigating a string of grisly murders committed by someone who's specifically targeting police officers.
The deeper the detectives get into the mystery of who's murdering their colleagues, the clearer it becomes that the perpetrator has styled themselves after the original Jigsaw Killer, meaning that their horrific actions are all likely motivated out of a sick desire to enact some sort of justice.
In defiance of Lionsgate's past tradition of releasing Saw films just before Halloween, Spiral was originally scheduled for release on May 15, 2020, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The film was eventually released on May 14, 2021. Before the film's release, a podcast titled Seeing Saw: The Official Spiral Podcast was aired to promote it, in which critics Catherine Bray, Anna Bogutskaya and Charlie Shackleton discussed previous films in the series, with special appearances from Bousman and series producers Leigh Whannell, Mark Burg and Oren Koules. A final episode of the podcast for the film itself was aired upon release.
Preceded by Jigsaw.
Spiral provides examples of:
- Actor Allusion:
- The Alcoholic: Pete is a recovering one who runs a AA group after being released from prison.
- Anthropic Principle: Spiral stops trying to make it seem like John is indirectly behind every murder in the franchise, and instead establishes that in the series' city, it's somehow extremely easy for anybody to abduct and then elaborately kill numerous victims, including high-ranking police officials. It's not just that the Police Are Useless, it's that somehow there are countless abandoned buildings and other structures throughout the whole city that allow for elaborate traps and executions. Plus, most people constantly get alone and isolated for long periods of time wherever they go and whatever they do.
- Artistic Licence Biology: A new tattoo made several minutes ago doesn't look the same as a years-old one, so there is no way that Schenk could have made a perfect replica of his tattoo on somebody else in a matter of minutes. Furthermore, cutting off that piece of skin immediately after tattooing it would probably completely ruin the tattoo.
- Beneath Suspicion: Schenk is never suspected by anyone to be Spiral Killer, even just before revealing himself at the climax. That said, it's easy for the audience to assume this when he's supposedly captured by the killer, because his game is never actually shown, unlike the other victims in the film and many more in the previous ones.
- Big "NO!": Zeke gives one at the end of the movie, after he witnesses Schenk get away.
- Body Horror: Aside from the usual gruesomely effective traps (including instances of Fingore, Facial Horror, Tongue Trauma and more), there's a nasty compound fracture to a meth dealer's leg, shown in loving close-up.
- Continuity Nod:
- When the police learn of the new killer, they talk about how this would not be the first time there was a copycat killer, a nod to the previous films' Jigsaw killers. Schenk suggests the killer might be another disciple of John, akin to Amanda, Hoffman and Logan, but Zeke dismisses the possibility, as it was already obvious that the killer couldn't be a disciple due to them following their own agenda and otherwise acting pretty independently from John's philosophy.
- On the police billboard detailing the new murders, there is a picture of John's dead body that is clearly from the opening autopsy of Saw IV.
- Cop Killer: The killer in this film is targeting the police, specifically Dirty Cops.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: As with any movie in the Saw franchise, several characters meet very unpleasant fates. Special mention goes to Fitch, who follows the killer's instructions and still dies after enduring the excruciating torment of having his fingers slowly ripped off because he wasn't fast enough; and Angie, who gets her face melted by boiling wax before suffocating in it.
- Da Chief: While not the police chief in the present (she's only a captain), Angie displays the usual clichés associated with this character archetype, chastising Zeke's antics which she doesn't approve of, while also letting him (and the rest of the department) get away with whatever they want.
- Darker and Edgier: Spiral is somewhat Denser and Wackier than the previous Saw films due to the presence of actors like Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson, but it's a lot more focused on police corruption and brutality and the dark criminal world beneath it than the previous films, with the general setting (which is the same as in previous films) becoming far more dangerous and bleak overall.
- Dirty Cop: The whole police force besides Zeke and Schenk are sleazy one way or another, either by directly engaging in Police Brutality or at least turning a blind eye to it. That being said, Schenk is a serial killer who snuck into the department to kill cops, so he's not much better.
- Disproportionate Retribution:
- Fitch is revealed to have killed a random citizen just for flipping him off.
- Armed assailant or not, there's no excuse for the level of firepower the SWAT team uses on Marcus at the end.
- Door-Closes Ending: As per Saw tradition; this time, as Schenk escapes from the scene of Marcus' trap, an elevator door gets shut instead of a standard door.
- Downer Ending: Not only do all of the traps go off without a hitch, with Zeke unable to save a single one of their victims after he takes on the case, but in the end, Marcus's trap ends up leading to him being bled out almost completely and then getting gunned down by the police, Schenk escapes, and Zeke helplessly has to watch both.
- Drowning Pit: Angie's trap has the victim strapped to a table with cheese cloth over their face. A faucet overhead pours out searing hot wax that will stick to the cloth and suffocate the victim unless they use a blade beneath their neck to sever their spinal column. Angie can't do it, so she dies before Zeke can get to her.
- Et Tu, Brute?: Zeke is visibly shaken upon confronting Schenk as the Spiral killer, calling out his betrayal.
- Evil All Along: In the final game that Zeke is put through, Schenk, the rookie detective who was assigned as his partner for the Spiral Killer's case, reveals himself as said killer, and attempts to offer him to become his accomplice.
- Fatal Family Photo: Early on, Schenk shows Zeke a photo of his wife and newborn child, appearing to set this trope up. Later on, a dead body believed to be Schenk's is discovered, seemingly playing the trope straight. Then it's subverted; not only is Schenk alive, but his family never really existed. He has actually been the Spiral Killer all along.
- Fingore: Fitch's trap requires him to hold down a mechanism with his teeth that will slowly tear his fingers off, which he has to do fast enough to escape before the rising water hits an exposed cable and electrocutes him to death. Though he makes a valiant effort and loses a few fingers, his screams cause just enough of a delay to doom him. To add insult to injury, the current causes his mouth to clamp down, ripping off his remaining fingers anyway.
- Flayed Alive: This is apparently what happens to Schenk. It turns out that the body is actually a homeless man, and Schenk was the one who flayed him.
- Flechette Storm: Pete's trap has glass bottles being fed into an industrial shredder by a conveyor belt at regular intervals, which are then propelled by an industrial fan at high speeds into the victim. The victim has no way to escape, and has to rely on the willingness of another person there to brave the glass and free them, assuming they can find the hidden key based on the clues in the message. Zeke takes too long to figure it out, so Pete dies from all the glass shot into his organs.
- Genre Blindness: Even after realizing they are dealing with a Jigsaw Killer copycat and knowing how the killers operate (kidnapping and drugging isolated people to put them in traps), when their fellow cops start getting kidnapped, everyone STILL goes to investigate strange calls or travel to new areas alone without backup, making themselves easy targets for the killer.
- Go Look at the Distraction: A cop is attacked on the street in broad daylight by someone in a pig mask, causing every available officer to respond. Zeke realizes too late that the attack was meant to draw them out, leaving the killer free to grab Angie and put her in a trap.
- Good Is Not Nice: Zeke is a highly abrasive, foul-mouthed Cowboy Cop who is hated by most of his peers, but he is also the only cop in his department with the integrity to call out the internal corruption rampant within the police force. This is the primary reason why the copycat killer addresses their messages directly to him.
- He Knows Too Much: Pete, Zeke's former partner, killed a witness who was going to testify against another Dirty Cop. This turns out to be the killer's motivation, being the son of that witness.
- High-Voltage Death: Fitch fails to remove his fingers in time, and thus, is fried to a crisp when the water in his trap reaches the electrical cords.
- Hypocrite: Unlike Jigsaw, Schenk never denies being a murderer; while his games don't give his victims a chance to survive, he doesn't pretend he isn't responsible for their deaths and feels that killing them was doing a service to society. However, like Jigsaw, he isn't above bending his code when it suits him. He killed and then flayed his accomplice Benny to use him as a body double, which he doesn't seem to reflect on at all.
- Insane Troll Logic: In a conversation with Schenk about leads on the new killer, Zeke claims Jigsaw and his "disciples" by extension don't target cops while debating their identity. Given John and Hoffman's crimes are very well-publicized by this time, it's unknown why Zeke would say this when they've personally targeted many detectives, officers and FBI special agents.
- That being said, it's possible he meant the original Jigsaw didn't exclusively target cops like the Spiral Killer does.
- Ironic Echo: During the climactic reveal, Schenk recalls how Zeke saw that he witnessed his father's murder, and made a shushing gesture for him to keep it to himself. When Schenk exacts his revenge by setting up Zeke's father to be gunned down before his eyes, Schenk returns the gesture in kind as he escapes.
- Jack the Ripoff: Unlike prior successors to the original Jigsaw Killer, there's never any indication that this film's killer was ever directly trained by John Kramer, instead merely being inspired by his ideology and methods.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: After a shootout with a gangbanger with possible connections to one of their leads on the Spiral Killer, Zeke douses his maimed leg with alcohol and beats him when the thug plays coy.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Played with in regards to Marv Bozwick, the film's first victim. He's targeted for lying under oath multiple times and getting many innocents imprisoned, but he's also one of the few cops not to harass Zeke for snitching on Pete, with the two actually being close friends with each other and their families.
- Killing in Self-Defense: Exaggerated at the end, where a SWAT team unload all of their guns on Marcus when his trap makes it look like he's about to shoot them with a single pistol.
- Laser-Guided Karma: The main reason why the trap victims wind up in one. Also overlaps with Karmic Death, as none of them survive.
- Marv Bozwick, who is revealed to have lied under oath, is placed in a trap that where he must rip out own his tongue to survive.
- Fitch, who shot and killed a civilian just for flipping him off, is put in a trap where he must let his fingers get ripped off to survive.
- Angie spent her time as chief turning a blind eye to Police Brutality, so her trap is one that covers her face in hot oil, blinding her for real.
- Pete is ultimately killed in a trap conducted by the son of the man he killed years ago. Being a recovering alcoholic who shot an innocent man, fittingly his death comes to him in a Flechette Storm of broken bottles being shot at him by a fan.
- Marcus spent his time as police chief engaging in, encouraging, and covering up police brutality and abuse in his precinct, such as claiming self-defense to falsely justify shooting innocents. As such, it's only fitting that he meets his end to a group of law enforcement agents gunning him down in overzealous self-defense of their own.
- Moody Trailer Cover Song: The trailer's music is a darker cover of the franchise's Leitmotif, "Hello Zepp". The film itself uses a comparatively mundane version with a more defined sound at the climax.
- Multiple Gunshot Death: The SWAT team absolutely unloads on Marcus at the end of the film, to a ridiculous degree.
- Mythology Gag:
- Zeke finds himself handcuffed to a pipe with nothing but a handsaw to free him, calling back to the first film. Fortunately, he also has a bobby pin within reach.
- The ending sequence features multiple in one fell swoop:
- Zeke shouting at Schenk and reaching out to him as he flees the scene, calling back to the ending of the first film.
- The film ending on a villainous character closing a big sliding door is another Saw franchise staple.
- A subtle one, but as Marcus is lying on the floor, he weakly pleads with the police not to come through the door, as it will trigger the trap. This is the same situation that unfolded at the end of Saw IV, with similar results.
- After capturing a relative of the protagonist's, the Big Bad is awaiting the protagonist in an abandoned industrial facility. There, he taunts the protagonist, allows the protagonist to beat him up, and then escapes in an elevator, all part of his plan. This is a major plot point in Saw II.
- Never My Fault: Pete demonstrates at least some awareness that what he did was wrong and that department policies at the time were wildly corrupt, and yet he still considers Zeke a backstabber for reporting him.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:
- Zeke reported Pete for murdering a witness, getting Pete kicked off the force. His comrades all regarded him as a rat and left him to get shot during a shootout. Not only that, but it also got his personal life ruined, with his wife divorcing him from the strain.
- Zeke telling Schenk to stay quiet after Pete shoots his father directly leads to Schenk killing his own father years later.
- Not Me This Time: It may be designed to look like their traps and that they're back in action, but John Kramer and his apprentices have nothing to do with it this time.
- Oddly Named Sequel 2: Electric Boogaloo: This is the first film in the Saw franchise not to include the word "Saw" in the main title. Like the other post-VI sequels, it also lacks Roman numerals.
- Oh, Crap!: Zeke has this reaction when investigating a police officer being attacked by someone in a pig mask. He thinks back to the note that was sent to the Precinct with a piece of Schenk's skin, realizes the attack was a diversion, and who the copycat killer is going after next."Careful, while youre looking for more bodies to drop, Ill take your head."
"Angie, you're the head of the department."
Zeke: Angie... Aw, FUCK!
- Older Hero vs. Younger Villain: Zeke was already a cop when Schenk was still a child.
- One Degree of Separation: While the film's cast has no connections with most of the previous films' characters, the plot progressively establishes most of them to either have different relationships with each other or that they've met each other at least once, including the Spiral killer themselves towards Zeke and Pete.
- Papa Wolf: Marcus is this to Zeke. During the flashback where Zeke got shot due his calls for backup being ignored not once, not twice, but three times, upon arriving at the sight of him, Marcus began laying into his fellow cops for their negligence, even vowing to call dispatch to find out who was closest at the time of the calls so he could shoot them. Fitch then began acting suspiciously, leading Marcus to immediately attack him.
- People Puppets: Marcus becomes one at the very end as a distraction and part of Schenk's escape plan. When the SWAT team cuts through a wire attached to the door of the room he's in, the wires connected to Marcus string him up like a marionette and reveal a gun strapped to his arm that the mechanism forces him to aim at the cops, causing them to shoot him in self-defense.
- Police Are Useless: Justified. In this film, it's shown that the Metropolitan Police Department has had plenty of Dirty Cops and a long history of Police Brutality, especially after Zeke turned in Pete for murdering a witness. This not only worsens the department's efforts to capture the Spiral Killer, but also left many past crimes without resolution.
- Police Brutality: A major theme of the movie, as the entire motivation of the copycat killer is to stop this from happening, with all the victims being corrupt cops who are not above committing petty and violent crimes, abusing their power for their own personal gain, and covering up said crimes for each other.
- Pragmatic Villainy: Fitch during the flashback scenes. Despite refusing Zeke backup, the second shots are fired, he has an Oh, Crap! moment and rushes to his location. This isn't because he cares about Zeke, but because he knows Marcus will literally kill him if his son died because of him.
- Revisiting the Roots: The film is partly an attempt at bringing the Saw franchise back to its roots, taking most of its cues from the first film in the series (which was a mystery/suspense thriller relatively light on gore) rather than the following installments (which progressively emphasized spectacle over suspense, and dialed up the violence considerably). Among other things, it has a more minimalistic presentation and a pair of detectives as the co-protagonists. Even the casting (which features Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson among the main characters) may have been intended as a throwback to the first film, which prominently featured Danny Glover and Cary Elwes (in contrast to the other films, which include very few big-name actors their casts).
- Sadistic Choice: The final trap. Schenk has Marcus strung up and bleeding out into jars. Zeke has a gun with one bullet. Shooting a target will drop Marcus and prevent more blood loss, but Zeke won't have any more bullets to shoot Schenk. Zeke frees his father and tries to stop Schenk by hand, failing to notice the secondary trigger wire Schenk set up. When the SWAT team breaks in, Marcus is manipulated by wires to aim a gun at them, causing them to shoot him as a potential threat.
- Sarcastic Confession: When Schenk and Zeke start working together, Schenk at one point gives an offhand remark that "I've been dreaming about this since I was twelve years old." Come the reveal of his true identity as the Spiral Killer, it's shown that the catalyst for his line of work was his father being killed when he was twelve, after which he and Zeke had their first interaction.
- Shout-Out: The company who made the safe in the precinct is named Vincent & Jules. Also overlaps with Celebrity Paradox, as Samuel L. Jackson also features in this film.
- Take a Third Option: Subverted. Zeke attempts to take one of these in the final game, using the bullet to save his father, and then trying to arrest Schenk by force anyway. Instead of focusing on checking if there was another trap keeping his father in harm's way, he gets distracted by Schenk, leading to the SWAT team killing his father and Schenk getting away regardless.
- Tongue Trauma: The opening trap consists of Marv Bozwick having to rip out his tongue, which is being held by a bolt suspended from the ceiling, in order to avoid an incoming subway that he's positioned in the path of on a ladder. He hesitates for too long, so by the time he figures out to jump off the ladder and let gravity do the work, the train hits him mid-fall.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Schenk would never have become a serial killer and killed Pete if Pete himself hadn't murdered Schenk's father in front of him.
- We Can Rule Together: This is what Schenk hopes will happen between him and Zeke after the former is revealed to be the real copycat killer. Schenk wants to work together with Zeke to purge the corrupt officers in the police department, with the final act of the film being an elaborate test to see if he can trust him. Unfortunately for Zeke, Schenk knows that he's bluffing in regards to agreeing to work with him and intentionally sets up the final trap so that whatever decision Zeke makes still ends in a favorable outcome for himself.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Schenk's whole motive is to stop corruption on the police force and for cops to be held to the same standards as everyone else. Not a bad attitude to have, though killing them in death traps is definitely not the way to go.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Logan's fate is not seen or mentioned in this movie, leaving to imagination what end took his crusade in continuing Jigsaw's work.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: The movie makes it clear from the very start that the Big Bad is not John nor does he share his modus operandi, which Zeke finds out the hard way at the very end. He at first tries to save one victim in a trap thats seemingly similar to the ones from the 3rd movie however, this trap is actually (nigh) inescapable, as everything happens way too quickly, so his attempt to save the victim is futile and only injures himself as well. Even worse, the apparent choice that Zeke faces after that proves to be nonexistent, since regardless of what he did, his father would have died either by blood loss or by getting gunned down by police. The Big Bads comments even lampshade how, unlike John Kramer, he doesnt want his victims to learn anything, he just wants them dead, and Zeke is wrong for trying to win an unwinnable game.
- You Are Too Late: At one point, Zeke figures out that Angie is the next target, but arrives too late to prevent her death.