DirectorDarren Lynn Bousman
Release Date(s)2021 (July 20, 2021)
Studio(s)Twisted Pictures (Lionsgate)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
Like the monsters which drive them, horror franchises never seem to die, but instead simply reach the point where they get remade or rebooted. After making seven films in seven years, the Saw series took a break for another seven years before releasing the one-off Jigsaw in 2017, and then eventually taking a harder reset in 2021 with Spiral (aka Spiral: From the Book of Saw). It still takes place in the same continuity as the other films, but it also tries to take the franchise in a different direction going forward, with a new villain and a refreshed style. Essentially, this story shoehorns Se7en into the Saw universe, adding a touch of Beverly Hills Cop by casting Chris Rock in the lead role.
When a killer targets corrupt police officers with traps which are clearly inspired by Jigsaw’s devices, Det. Zeke Banks (Rock) and his rookie partner Det. William Schenk (Max Minghella) are assigned the task of stopping the killings. When Banks himself was a rookie, he had testified against his own corrupt partner, and as a result no one else in the department will back him up. As the body count grows and the clues start to accumulate, it becomes even more difficult to tell friend from foe, and Banks will be pushed into making choices which are increasingly extreme.
For all of its superficial difference, Spiral doesn’t really try to reinvent the wheel. Director Darren Lynn Bousman had previously helmed Saw II through Saw IV, and screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger had both written Jigsaw. Bringing Chris Rock into the equation did add humor which was missing from earlier installments, and cinematographer Jordan Oram gave the visuals a brighter and more colorful look, but this is still clearly a Saw film which ticks off all of the expected boxes. Fans of the franchise should be satisfied, but Spiral doesn’t do much to attract new ones.
Spiral was captured digitally at 6K resolution using Sony CineAlta Venice cameras with Angenieux lenses, and was finished as a full 4K Digital Intermediate framed at 2.39:1. Lionsgate presents the film on Ultra HD graded for high dynamic range (in HDR10 only). The image is sharp, with plenty of fine detail in facial textures, clothing, and the surrounding environment. The HDR grade expands the contrast range while also allowing for more shadow detail in the darker areas of the frame. The other Saw films generally had a desaturated look, leaning toward sickly green tones, but Spiral announces its differences right up front with bright colors and a dazzling display of fireworks. The colors are richly saturated throughout the film, with just a few scenes carrying over the desaturated green appearance when appropriate. It’s a striking look, especially when compared to the previous films in the franchise.
Audio options include English Dolby Atmos, English Descriptive Audio 2.0 Dolby Digital, and Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital. The Atmos track also calls attention to itself during the opening sequence when the fireworks go off overhead, followed by a pursuit into a tunnel with ambient effects all around the viewer. That level of immersion continues throughout the film, accompanied by clear dialogue and plenty of deep bass in the score. It’s a great mix which enhances the Saw experience. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Lionsgate’s Ultra HD release of Spiral is a combo pack which includes a Blu-ray version of the film as well as a Digital Copy code. The extras are identical on both discs, and all are in HD:
- Audio Commentary with Darren Lynn Bousman, Josh Stolberg, and Charlie Closer
- Audio Commentary with Oren Koules and Mark Burg
- The Consequences of Your Actions: Creating Spiral (59:05)
- Drawing Inspiration: Illustrated Trap Breakdown (8:45)
- Decoding the Marketing Spiral (6:12)
- Theatrical Teaser Trailer (1:43)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:26)
The first commentary with director Bousman, screenwriter Stolberg, and composer Closer is a fairly loose and chatty experience. Bousman tends to dominate the track, but it’s clear that all of them are enthusiastic about the film and really enjoyed working with each other. They give general details such as how they had developed the franchise and wanted to change things up for Spiral, as well as specific details such as their battles with the MPAA. The second commentary with producers Koules and Burg is even less focused, with the two providing random anecdotes, but frequently lapsing into silence. The Consequences of Your Actions: Creating Spiral is a five-part documentary with the option to play each chapter individually, or as a group. It includes interviews with most of the cast and crew, who talk about the genesis and development of the project, as well as how the pandemic completely changed the release schedule. Drawing Inspiration: Illustrated Trap Breakdown is hosted by Bousman, who shows clips of the traps used in the film and explains how they were shot. The whole thing feels a bit like John Madden using his coach’s clicker, as Bousman keeps pausing, rewinding, and drawing on the screen. Decoding the Marketing Spiral features Bousman, Koules, Burg, and executive producer Jason Constantine talking about the marketing of the entire franchise, and how that experience affected the marketing of Spiral.
Spiral is a soft reboot which tries to take the series in new directions while never letting go of the past. That may or may not please all viewers, but the picture and sound quality on Lionsgate’s Ultra HD release should leave everyone satisfied.
- Stephen Bjork
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