How Spiral Connects to the Larger Saw Franchise

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This article contains spoilers for Spiral: From the Book of Saw. Read the spoiler-free review here.

It was a year and lifetime ago when the Spiral: From the Book of Saw trailer caught everyone off guard. What is this police procedural thriller starring Chris Rock and… wait a second, is that the Saw music? Yes, it was! Rock, plus Samuel L. Jackson, is starring in a reboot/spinoff of the 2000s’ most popular horror franchise: Saw.

How it would connect to those gruesome bloodbaths which helped pioneer the “torture porn” subgenre of horror, was not immediately clear. But with Spiral now in theaters, it seems like the perfect time to connect the dots on how Spiral follows in Jigsaw’s footsteps.

First of all, Spiral is not a reboot of Saw. The events of the original seven films remain in canon (2017’s Jigsaw seems a little iffier since it’s never referenced). And all of these events happened many years before the events of the 2021 film. Hence why when the Metropolitan Police Force realizes in Spiral that they’re dealing with a serial killer who likes to “play games,” they’re immediately unsettled: Could this be connected to the Jigsaw Killer?

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The answer is unsurprisingly yes and no. While the killer of Spiral is clearly inspired by the teachings of the original Jigsaw, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), he’s much too young to have ever known the man, much less be one of his disciples. Even before the movie’s big reveal, Rock’s central character Det. Zeke Banks says, “John Kramer didn’t only target cops. Whoever did this has another motive, something personal. And they’re not following orders, especially the orders of a ghost.”

Indeed, as we lay out here, the killer, who is secretly Zeke’s partner Will Schenk (Max Minghella), is out for revenge on the entire Metropolitan Police Force and its code of silent corruption. Twelve years before the events of Spiral, his father was murdered by a dirty cop who Zeke turned in. While Zeke did the right thing, he’s spent the rest of his career looking over his shoulder. The system clearly didn’t change.

Will admires the philosophy of the original Jigsaw killer, who after being diagnosed with terminal cancer used his final years to orchestrate elaborate death traps that would teach his victims to better appreciate their lives (should they survive so long). One of the images Jigsaw relied on was a spiral.

“[The spiral is] a symbol of change, evolution, progress,” Will says. “But why limit that to an individual when you can apply it to a whole system?” So Will embraces that symbol as the calling card for his own Jigsaw murders. He also mimics Jigsaw’s crimes, but updates them for his own obsessions, with the creepy random puppet Jigsaw used being replaced by a puppet of a pig in police blue on a string. The metaphor is no more symbol than the new Jigsaw also wearing a pig mask while killing cops.

But unlike the original Jigsaw and his favorite disciples, I would argue Will’s new traps for dirty cops are designed to be largely unwinnable.

With exceedingly tight time limits, there is almost no way any of the cops in his machinations will be able to survive their traps. But Will doesn’t want them to. A tongue here, 10 ripped fingers there, and each cop’s ghastly fate is intended to teach a lesson to the rest of the living police force.

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Hence at the end of the movie, Zeke’s father, retired Police Chief Marcus Banks (Jackson) is doomed no matter what happens. Zeke fails his personal test in Will’s eyes by attempting to save Marcus’ life, but the SWAT team then comes in and still shoots Marcus dead—they’ve been tricked into believing their beloved old boss is just another angry Black man with a gun.

What would John Kramer make of all this? His last acts before dying in Saw III were setting up his favorite protégé Amanda (Shawnee Smith) to die because she placed a good-hearted police detective in an unwinnable trap. But that was a different era. Spiral’s games are very much of their 2021 moment.

And I have a hunch the games are only just beginning….

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