Spiral is rather obviously riffing off of Seven (1995), which isn’t surprising given that the Saw franchise has always aimed for Fincher-lite. But the format of two cops coming across a grisly crime tied to the past also has elements of HBO’s True Detective, which makes for a more contemporary entry point. But even with those apparent inspirations, Spiral looks different from any Saw movie that’s come before. It’s slicker, literally (every actor appears sweaty), more cinematic and less an aesthetic product of grunge rock and nu metal like the 2000’s entries. Even the poster, awash in warm tones, suggests a new direction, and an artfulness that could entice those outside of longtime fans. There’s also the case of motive, which could certainly play into the horror of this post-Get Out (2017) era.
The fact that the new killer is targeting cops seems more pointed now than it would have two decades ago. While cops have always played a significant part in the franchise, particularly as the entries went in a more procedural direction, they’ve never been the sole target. But the fact that we have two black cops at the center of this story, during a time when police brutality against black people is topical, suggests that Spiral is aiming for social horror beyond the theme of “appreciate your life” that the previous installments thrived on. There are already theories that Jackson’s character will be the killer, and the one behind the nods to Kramer’s work that we see in the trailer, Billy the puppet and a hacksaw. But these films have always been reliant on twists and Jackson’s character feels like a red-herring, distracting us from a more horrific truth.
It’s been a long while since there’s been a Saw entry that felt worth getting excited about, but Spiral appears to be that film. If the game goes according to plan, then we could be looking at a new yearly franchise. If that comes to pass, then just as Saw once meant Halloween, Spiral could mean summertime, and the next important entry in black-led horror films.