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Chris Rock and Marisol Nichols in Spiral

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Emily Clark

Movie Review

When the Jigsaw killer was on the loose, he terrorized citizens by kidnapping them and placing them in traps designed to kill them.

Jigsaw targeted people who were committing crimes and getting away with them. Of course, what was considered a crime in his eyes was really based more on his own personal vendettas and unhinged moral compass than actual laws.

However, he also always offered his victims a way out. They could escape the deadly traps—and thus absolve themselves of the “sins” he claimed they were guilty of—but in order to do so, they had to disfigure themselves in some horrific way.

All of that stopped when Jigsaw died—along with most of his followers. So, when a cop turns up dead, killed by a Jigsaw copycat, it throws the Metro Police Department into chaos.

This new killer, like his predecessor, wants to play a game—a game that will result in the death or disfigurement of every corrupt officer in the Metro PD (thus marking them for what they are).

Det. Zeke Banks is lead on the case. He’s a good cop, and even turned in a fellow officer 12 years ago for killing a witness. Unfortunately, while this protects him from being targeted by this copycat killer, it also makes him a target for his colleagues who think he’s a snitch and disloyal.

Ironically though, they’ll have to trust the one person they hate (and who hates their corruption) to forgive them and solve the case before the new Jigsaw killer can take them out one by one.

Positive Elements

In a demented way, Jigsaw and his imitator challenge characters and viewers alike to examine their moral compasses. And while their methods of justice are utterly wrong, it still gives characters an opportunity to grow and correct their mistakes.

Zeke did the right thing. He turned in a corrupt officer and sought justice for the family of the man the officer murdered. Though it turned most of the Metro PD against him, Zeke refused to back down. He continued to do good police work and catch the bad guys even when it meant he had to do it alone. And while this persistence sometimes causes problems (he often doesn’t communicate when he’s undercover), it also helps put murderers, drug-dealers and other bad guys behind bars.

Moreover, despite his mistreatment at the hands of his colleagues, he still does everything he can to save their lives, even when he knows they are guilty of the crimes they’re accused of.

Zeke and his dad, former police chief Marcus Banks, have a strained relationship. And Zeke reacts poorly when his dad tries to offer advice about how to handle the copycat killer. However, Zeke still loves his dad and tries to make amends with him.

Spiritual Elements

An AA meeting takes place in a church. Someone sarcastically says, “God loves you.”

Sexual Content

Zeke scoffs at the idea of happy marriages because his own is failing. He tells William, his rookie detective partner, that all police officer marriages fail because of the job’s demands.

When William mentions that he goes to counseling with his wife as a preventive measure, Zeke says his wife cheated on him with their counselor and insinuates that William’s wife is probably having an affair.

People talk about pimps and AIDS. A woman enters a men’s restroom and tells a man who is urinating to leave. Someone mentions pornography.

Violent Content

If you haven’t seen any of the previous Saw films, then allow me fill you in: The bloodshed starts within the first five minutes and doesn’t relent until credits roll.

The various traps that ensnare the Jigsaw copycat’s victims require them to suffer unimaginable pain in order to free themselves. And, spoiler warning of sorts, none of them succeed.

One man, tied up with barbed wire, has his tongue ripped out of his skull before he is hit by a freight train. Another man’s fingers are pulled from his body in a modified Chinese finger trap, and then he is electrocuted. Someone is skinned post-mortem after a drug overdose. A woman’s spinal cord is slowly severed while boiling hot wax is poured on her face waterboard-style (and someone peels the wax and parts of her skin off afterwards to perform CPR). One man is strung up and pummeled with large shards of broken glass. And yet another man is drained of most of his blood before accidentally getting shot to death by a SWAT team.

And all of these gruesome deaths don’t even account for the guns that are fired by crooks and cops alike (sometimes killing people in the process). Threats are made, people are beaten and held at gunpoint. We see the bone of a man’s broken leg before a cop pours alcohol over the wound to “sterilize” it. And another man’s nose is broken when a cop slams the door on his face.

Furthermore, when kidnapping people, the Jigsaw copycat pulls plastic bags over their heads to choke them out. He uses a smoke bomb to temporarily suffocate another victim. And he sends the body parts of his victims to the Metro Police Department as “clues.”

A man pulls shards of glass out of his arm, and we see more pieces stuck in his face. Zeke is shot in the stomach by a criminal. While paramedics attend to his wound, Marcus beats up another cop for not providing backup. We hear that someone beat his wife when drunk.

We see a dead rat in a trap and a dead pig in a truck. We also see several animal carcasses hanging in a butcher shop.

Crude or Profane Language

There are more than 135 uses of the f-word (with about 20 preceded by “mother”) and 35 uses of the s-word. There are also three uses of the n-word (and a song in the background features even more uses of the f-word and n-word). There are six uses of “b–ch,” three of “a–hole” and two uses each of “d–k,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused four times (three of which are paired with “d–mit”) and Jesus’ name is misused another four.

Drug and Alcohol Content

We hear that a man addicted to meth died of an overdose. Zeke buys drugs in order to gain access to a dealer’s apartment. While working undercover, Zeke and a crew of criminals steal cocaine from a dealer. Several people attend an AA meeting. A woman smokes a cigarette. People drink alcohol at different points throughout the film.

Other Negative Elements

The Jigsaw copycat’s vendetta against the police department has to do with a special law called “Article 8” that allowed police to literally get away with murder in order to reduce crime. As he puts it, “The streets got cleaner because the cops got dirtier.”

We hear about officers lying under oath, shooting innocent people, planting fake evidence and letting their friends off easy. One woman is even targeted not because she did something but rather because she didn’t do anything to stop the corruption.

In the end, the Jigsaw copycat sees himself as a hero for standing against evil cops and aims to scare them into correcting themselves. Eventually, we learn that it’s all fueled by a personal mission for vengeance against the officers who caused his father’s death.

The Jigsaw copycat wears a terrifying pig mask whenever he kidnaps victims, resulting in several jump scares. He also utilizes a creepy pig doll to deliver messages.

Several detectives disrespect Zeke, ignoring him when he is briefing them on the Jigsaw copycat and openly defying orders. (And we learn that years ago, because they refused to provide backup for him, Zeke was shot.)

People lie and steal. We hear a discussion about the appropriate terms for differently abled people. Someone corrects a man for calling women a rude name. Zeke gets angry when he learns that a man’s wife was notified of his death by a stranger instead of a friend.

Conclusion

Would you be willing to endure excruciating pain in order to save your life? More importantly, would you be able to? Would you be able to trust someone who is just as corrupt as you are in order to escape? Would they be able to trust you?

These are the kinds of questions Spiral—just like the other entries in the Saw franchise—asks viewers to ponder. And the film also focuses on how far morally upright characters will go in the pursuit of justice. 

But let’s not get carried away here. As interesting as the psychology in this film can be in certain moments, such as when Spiral explores what a good man will do to save someone he knows is bad, this film (and its franchise) is still horrific.

I’m honestly shocked that these movies have somehow all garnered an R rating. Between the foul language, terrifying images and bodies being torn apart, it feels like Spiral deserves an NC-17 rating.

So let’s play a game, one where we all stay at home and watch nice, wholesome movies with our families instead of flocking to theaters to see another Saw bloodletting full of gruesome torture masquerading as a morality play.

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Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

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