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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 Column! On How the “Saw” Franchise Has Always Played With Its Audience…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Spiral: From the Book of Saw this weekend, it seemed like a good excuse to take a look back at the larger Saw franchise.

For good and for ill, the Saw movies are inexorably tied to the George W. Bush era, with their meditations on torture and their emphasis on moral hypocrisy. However, discussions of the franchise tend to overlook the way in which the films intersect with another millennial trend: reality television. The Saw franchise is the rare horror movie franchise that is actively engaged with the idea of watching horror movies. In particular, in the relationship that exists between horror movies and their audiences – and whether those watching at home are observers or participants in the carnage.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

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.

225. Jurassic Park (#165)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Jess Dunne and Alex Towers, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.

Billionaire Richard Hammond is building a new sort of theme park. However, when an accident on site makes the investors nervous, Hammond is forced to invite a panel of experts to his remote island for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that doesn’t go exactly according to plan.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 165th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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213. Black Christmas – Christmas 2020 (-#75)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Doctor Bernice Murphy and Joey Keogh, The 250 is a weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas.

As Christmas settles on Hawthorne College, something more unpleasant is in the air. A series of attacks on female students suggests that a killer is loose on campus, but the young members of the Mu Kappa Epsilon sorority begin to suspect that there is something far more toxic at work.

At time of recording, it was ranked 75th on the list of the worst movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! Twenty Years Later, “Battle Royale” Still Stands Apart…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Because Battle Royale is twenty years old this month, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at the iconic Japanese film.

In the years since the release of Battle Royale, there has been an explosion of dystopian young adult fiction based around similar premises: the idea of children forced to kill other children to survive. There are plenty of examples of this subgenre, most notably The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner. However, Battle Royale has aged better than these other films for two core reasons. First of all, it acknowledges the horror of its premise, rather than sanitising it. Second of all, it understands that this social decay is perhaps more mundane than sensationalist.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 3, Episode 5 (“… Thirteen Years Later”)

Earlier in the year, I was thrilled to spend a lot of time on The Time is Now discussing the second season of Millennium. Since the podcast has moved on to the third season, I have taken something of a step back as a guest. That said, I was flattered to get an invitation to discuss … Thirteen Years Later with the fantastic Kurt North.

I am not as big a fan of the third season as I was of the second. This is particularly true of the opening stretch of the third season, which is chaotic and uneven at the best of times. … Thirteen Years Later is in some ways a prime illustration of the problems facing this relaunched version of the show. It’s a comedy episode released for Halloween, essentially offering a very tame Hollywood satire that feels like an awkward attempt to catch up with the Scream movies. Still, it’s a fun and broad discussion.

As ever, you can listen directly to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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New Escapist Video! On the True Horror of John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse” Trilogy…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with the Monday article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film channel – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

With that in mind, here is last week’s episode. Because Halloween was coming up, we thought it would be fun to look at something horror-related. I’ve been watching a few John Carpenter films lately, and so I thought I’d delve a little bit into how Carpenter’s craft works and how it has aged so effectively and so hauntingly. In particular, Carpenter’s loose “Apocalypse” trilogy (The Thing, Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness) count among the most unsettling (and resonant) depictions of the end of the world in popular cinema.

 

206. se7en – Halloween 2020 (#20)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Doctor Bernice Murphy and Phil Bagnall, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This week and next week, we are taking a break from our Summer of Scorsese for a Halloween treat. David Fincher’s se7en.

Detective William Somerset is seven days away from retirement, and has just been partnered with a new arrival from outside the city. Detective David Mills has yet to fully adjust to the rules of the urban landscape. However, Somerset’s plans to retire are undercut after a pair of strange deaths point to something sinister simmering below the surface of the city.

At time of recording, it was ranked 20th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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Non-Review: His House

His House is a striking and unsettling piece of piece of work, and an impressive feature debut for director Remi Weekes.

His House focuses on Bol and Rial, a refugee couple who have fled war-torn Sudan and arrived in the United Kingdom. Against all odds, the couple are allowed out of the detention centre and assigned their own living space. It is a rundown old house on an estate. “You must have won the jackpot,” explains their case worker Mark, even as the front door falls off its hinges. It is a big house, one in need of a lot of care and work. However, it all belongs to Bol and Rial – and whatever they have brought with them.

That sinking feeling.

His House works on a number of levels. Most obviously and most importantly, it is genuinely unsettling. Weekes understands the mechanics of horror, and works closely with composer Roque Baños and cinematographer Jo Willems to construct a genuinely creepy horror. Weekes makes excellent use of negative space and framing to make the audience uncomfortable, and generally does an excellent job with mounting tension and dread. His House is an impressive piece of horror, judged simply as a genre piece.

However, the film is also quite pointed and well-observed in its horror. His Horror riffs on the tropes and conventions of the familiar haunted house story, particularly as a metaphor for trauma. What elevates Weekes’ screenplay, from a premise by Felicity Evans and Toby Venables, is an understanding that sometimes the ghosts that fill a haunted house arrive with the owners.

It is certainly a fixer-upper.

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