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Non-Review Review: Spiral – From the Book of Saw

Spiral: From the Book of Saw is an interesting, if dysfunctional, franchise extension.

The obvious point of contrast is something like Jigsaw, the last attempt to restart the Saw franchise. Jigsaw was released in 2017, two years after Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, and it bet big on a particular kind of nostalgia. It was a film that consciously aspired to evoke the memory of the Saw franchise among an audience that had probably seen an entry or two in the franchise a decade earlier and had vague memories of the experience.

Rocking the boat.

Jigsaw offered a much more polished take on the Saw template, eschewing the grimy green and grey aesthetic of the previous seven films in favour of a crisp sheen. Still, the film worked very hard to demonstrate its affection and veneration for the source material, even while offering superficial updates like moving the action into the countryside and swapping blades for lasers. The company logos at the start of Jigsaw appeared over a remix of Hello Zepp. Billy the Puppet got a makeover. Tobin Bell got considerable screentime as John Kramer, and the film tied itself to his back story and history.

Spiral takes a very different approach to its nostalgia. The film is the first in the series not to feature the character of John Kramer. Billy the Puppet has also been retired. While a variation on Hello Zepp does eventually play, Spiral holds it back and makes the audience wait for the pay-off. Spiral is very much part of the larger Saw franchise, and contains the requisite death traps and even brings back director Darren Lynn Bousman, but it feels like a consciously pared down and “back to basics” approach to the franchise that strips out a lot of the clutter that has accrued over the franchise’s long life span.

Bloody horrific.

This is most notable with the film’s sharp genre shift. While all of the earlier Saw movies had some procedural element that followed law enforcement’s efforts to track down and stop the serial killer, Spiral centres this thread. Spiral is arguably a forensic thriller with gory elements, rather than a gory horror with a dash of forensic thriller for flavour. It’s a clear attempt at a fresh start, with Spiral even relegating the Saw brand to the subtitle while leaning more heavily on the spiral and pig imagery that was largely secondary in the original franchise.

The result is fascinating, even if it doesn’t quite work. Spiral is arguably a “back to basics” take on the Saw franchise, going so back to basics that it draws more heavily from the serial killer thrillers that originally inspired Saw than it does from the Saw movies themselves.

 

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New Escapist Video! “Spiral: From the Book of Saw – Review in 3 Minutes”

I’m thrilled to be launching 3-Minute Reviews on Escapist Movies. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of Spiral: From the Book of Saw, which is releasing in cinemas this weekend.

Non-Review Review: The Witches (2020)

The Witches offers a clumsy American update of the classic Roald Dahl novel.

To be fair, there is something potentially interesting in attempting to update The Witches, both for modern audiences and for American viewers. It’s to the credit of director Robert Zemeckis and co-writers Kenya Barris and Guillermo del Toro that they at least understand this. The Witches makes a number of alterations to its source material, and at least some of those reflect a genuine and compelling attempt to update the story to fit in a modern and American context.

Any witch way but loose…

At the same time, The Witches is a mess. Part of this is down to the way in which a lot of the appeal of Dahl’s story is lost in translation, as a wry and arch British story gets filtered through the hypersaturated Americana of one of the defining American directors, an even more exaggerated effect of what happened with Steven Spielberg’s work on The B.F.G. However, some of this is more fundamental, as Zemeckis struggles to balance tone and mood across the film, and finds his attentions drawn more to what his interests desire than what the plot demands.

The Witches is a misfire, but an intriguing one. There are hints of a much more compelling movie to found, sifting between its more misjudged moments.

Putting a (ro)dent in his reputation…

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Non-Review Review: Death at a Funeral

I think the charm of Death at a Funeralis the fact that it feels very much like a classic comedy of errors. Sure, there are some scatological moments thrown in, but it really feels like an old-fashioned slapstick comedy of manners, based around putting its characters through a variety of hilariously awkward little subplots, playing out against the backdrop of what should be a classy and respectful family occasion. If nothing else, the movie is a charming and affectionate homage to that style of comedy I had feared might be dearly departed.

A grave matter...

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Non-Review Review: Grown Ups

It’s very difficult to offer a movie that takes a cynical “Hollywood type” back to their roots. There are many reasons. The most obvious is that the type of person making the movie is a cynical Hollywood type and there’s something of an irony about making a film about the roots they’ve lost contact with – oftentimes it is more difficult to offer a grounded version of reality than it is to depict an alien invasion or a thoroughly ridiculous premise. Grown Ups is the second film this year which sees Adam Sandler playing a character attempting to reconnect with the common man – perhaps a timely theme in light of the recession, when the glitz and glamour of Hollywood stand in even starker contrast to the day-to-day lives of regular folks. However, if I didn’t know better, I’d think Sandler (whose production company produced the film and who co-wrote the script) is having something of a midlife crisis.

Not exactly a deep pool of talent...

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