Spiral is now available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, and digitally. The Saw spin-off stars Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson in the lead roles and is directed by Saw II-IV director Darren Lynn Bousman in his return to helming the horror series. While it exists in the Saw universe, it’s very much its own thing and provides a fresh experience.
ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Spiral director Darren Lynn Bousman about his love of interactive theater, why he doesn’t want to do just another Saw movie, and what it was like working with legends like Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson.
Tyler Treese: Spiral is this really great mix of genres. You’ve got the Saw-type horror and the mystery going on, but the first half is very much almost a buddy cop movie. What led to that blend of genre there?
Darren Lynn Bousman: We just wanted to do something different. I think that there’s been so many Saw films now. There’s been so many films like this that the fans have kind of [gone] there’s nothing new. So we wanted to try to right off the bat, kind of slap them in the face and say, this is not the Saw franchise or the Saw film that you think it is, it’s something different. So that was, that was kind of the idea to just do something completely different from them, and let them know, again, right off the bat, get prepared. This is not Saw 9. It’s something completely different,
Being in such a long-running franchise, and this is spin-off, but is it kind of hard because you do have those fans that are going to be so like, “This is Saw, I want it to be like this way.” Is it hard trying to reinvent it because you do have these loyal fans that know what they want, but you also want to give a fresh spin and get a lot more people into the series?
Yes, one of the hardest things is dealing with expectations because our whole idea was to kind of hit the reset button a little bit. It’s hard when you have as many fans as the Saw franchise, as they want Billy, they want Tobin Bell, but when they go watch a Saw movie, they also keep saying, “We want something different. We want something unique. We want something new as long as it’s not different for us.” So, it was trying to find that balance about what we can do that felt unique and felt fresh. It’s still giving them enough nods that they were like, okay, cool. They didn’t throw everything out. So we just took the thematic elements, the traps, the kind of twist at the end of the story and try to construct a completely different story.
Chris Rock’s performance is quite incredible in the film and his natural charisma and humor really shines in that first half. Then it gets more dramatic as it goes on. How was it like working with him and to have somebody that just lights up on camera like Chris does, especially for the more buddy cop moments? How much of a relief is that as a director?
It’s great because Chris has gotta be one of the greatest living comedians of our time. So you’re sitting there and you’re watching him do his thing, and you forget sometimes that he’s acting. There’s moments on set that I’m watching Chris Rock be Chris Rock, and so it was hard because you wanted him to have that freedom, but you also wanted him to make sure that he was Zeke Banks. So there was a lot of talks where Chris wanted us to push him into never going too far. He didn’t want to play anything for jokes. He’s like, I want to be funny, but I don’t want to play things for jokes. So it was trying to find that balance, but I’ll tell you from just a fan of Chris Rock, it was the most surreal, amazing experience in my career because I remember one time that my wife, Flora got really mad at me and she walked up on set and kind of yelled at me. Chris was standing right there and she walks away and Chris kind of gave me like a side-eye and then launched into a 30 minute kind of diatribe, which was a complete standup special. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I was like, this is so surreal. I’m literally getting a one-person comedy special from Chris Rock about my marriage to my wife. So the whole thing was pretty awesome.
We do see some comedy, like he has that Forrest Gump bit that’s real funny at the beginning of the film. Was any of that improvised or was that just him going off the script?
What Chris would do is he would shoot a scene and then he realized he could do it better and then come in the next day with pages. I’ll give you just one example he did, which I love. There’s a scene where it was overly dramatic and he comes in, he does it, the scene was good, but it was overly dramatic. The next day he comes in. He’s like, I got to redo that. I was like, dude, we’re out of that set. He’s like, just put a close-up, throw the background out, let me redo that part. So we did, and it was the part where basically he finds out that he just got Boz’s case. The line was supposed to be something like, “I know you guys can’t stand me, but I don’t care. I’m on this case. You’re gonna listen to me.” And so he changed it just very simply and said, “I know some of you guys are mad. Some of you can’t stand me. Some of you are mad that I fucked your mother. That little moment, it just killed for me. He would interject things like that in there, which just kind of really elevated his character,
Working with a perfectionist like Chris. You mentioned being out of the set, so that comes with challenges, but ultimately it makes for a better film you’d say?
Yeah, absolutely. 100%. This was a different Saw movie that I don’t think anyone could have expected. I mean, when you’re making a Saw film with Max Minghella, who just was nominated for an Emmy, Chris Rock, and Samuel L. Jackson, I mean, it’s an intense pressure.
You directed Saw II through IV. What really made you want to come back to this series? Would it have been as interesting to you if they were just like, “Hey, do you want to do Saw 9?” Was it more appealing to spin-off and try to reinvent what the Saw universe kind of can be?
Listen, what brought me back was Chris Rock. I mean, that’s what it was. Selfishly to be able to work with him. Like I mentioned, I was a huge fan of his, and getting to go back to the Saw universe and I knew that succeed or fail, it was going to be spectacular either way getting to work with these guys. Then two weeks later we land Samuel L. Jackson. So, yeah, I would have no desire to go back and just make another Saw film. Like you can get anyone to do that, but I think doing something with these guys, it immediately becomes more engaging.
You mentioned Samuel L. Jackson. I know you’ve worked with so many great actors over the years, but that’s a true legend of the field. How was it like working with him?
Honestly, I was terrified of him. No joke. Like he was probably the most scary person that I’ve ever talked to. Because Chris, okay, so Chris walks in and he’s everyone’s best friend, right? He’s, he’s sitting next to you. He’s telling stories about Eddie Murphy. Sam Jackson walks in and he is no nonsense. So, you know, when he walked in, it wasn’t Sam Jackson that walked in, it was Jules Winnfield, it was Nick Fury. It was Major Warren from The Hateful Eight. It was all of these characters that he was such a bad-ass in, intense and scary. So when he would look at me, like my butthole would just like tight. I was so terrified that this guy was going to pull a gun out and shoot me in the same way that I idolized him watching Pulp Fiction. So I think for me, I’m usually able to separate actor from the role, but with Samuel L. Jackson, I couldn’t, because I’m such a huge fan of his work. The whole experience working with him was surreal and think about it. Every movie he’s done, whether he’s playing Elijah Price on the Unbreakable franchise or John Shaft or any of these things, you know, he’s just a bad-ass. So it was, to me, it was the entire experience felt not real.
Max as the villain, I think he’s so fantastic in this film and something I really liked about his character is he has very valid grievances about police corruption, which goes beyond Spiral. It’s a very real life issue. He kind of goes about it the wrong way. I’m not sure that the torture is the right way, but it’s an interesting dynamic to the character. There’s always been social commentary in the Saw series and these interesting morality questions. Can you speak to both Max’s character in the film, and then the key of Saw having these type of philosophical elements and avoiding how it’d be so easy to just focus purely on the gore?
I think the best films are ones that have messages. Maybe you don’t agree with the serial killer, but you understand the reason. So if you look at, you know, Hannibal Lecter, I don’t agree with what he’s doing. I don’t agree with eating people, but you understand his motivations. I think with Jigsaw, he had real gripes, and I’ll tell you that when I did Saw II, both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer in the same year, both of them. What is Saw II about? It’s about or what’s John Kramer about, he’s about people that are ungracious. They have this gift of life, but they’re ungracious with that gift of life. So I immediately found a real dramatic in for me in this franchise. So I think that we needed to do something similar with Spiral. Now we made Spiral before George Floyd, we made Spiral before the Black Lives Matter protests, but it was important to us to have a message. We kind of leaned into the same idea, which is testing people that are corrupt, the difference between this and the last films is this film is trying to test an institution where the Saw films are about testing the individual.
The film’s ending is very interesting. It ends on a cliffhanger, and we could definitely see that story continuing since there’s unfinished business. Would a sequel be something you’re interested in?
Yeah. I mean, listen, I’ll always come back if it’s interesting and different. If it’s just the same thing that I have no desire, but I think Max and I talked and there’s a really, really, really interesting idea that we have. So we’ll see what happens. Only time is going to tell.
You’ve done so many cool immersive theater events and some ARGs that really go beyond film. You’re taking advantage of kind of the interconnectedness of the modern landscape and pushing films’ boundaries. Can you talk about your desire [to do that]? I guess it leads to something you’ve been saying, wanting to do something different and unique. Can you talk about pushing film in that way?
One of my passions is, or the other half of my career that not a lot of people really understand or know about, is my love of immersive theater and immersive content. I did something called The Tension Experience that’s run for years now. And it basically is taking a narrative and making it interactive and not a choose your own adventure, but you can actually live within the world that the characters and story takes place in. The more you try to engage with it, the more the story will change for you.
Now, that’s a very big mouthful, but what that means is basically imagine you go see a movie in the theaters. Let’s say that you go see a movie and three guys go rob a bank. As they walk in, they look they are drug addicts, bad guys, and they keep getting text messages and they’re just complete assholes. They’re shooting the ceiling. They get the money and they leave. The movie continues on. But when you leave that movie, imagine if you can access their cell phones and the text messages they were getting. Now, if you access their text messages, you realize that their families are being held hostage, and they’re told that they have one hour to get this money or all their kids will be killed. That changes your perception of the movie completely, but the movie still plays on the same level. If you never interacted with it, you still get an engaging movie. My hope is to push films so they are more engaging after and before you actually watch them in the theater. So you can uncover tons of backstory, tons of side stories, before, after, and during the actual movie, which is kind of what I’ve been working on for the last five or six years.
It seems like maybe the next possible step of that would maybe be something like a video game or maybe something done in virtual reality because there are like second-screen experiences with those. Would that be appealing to you in any way?
Yeah, I can’t say what right now, but, this is just so crazy, but I got the offer to direct the movie version of one of my favorite video games ever. I love games and I love the idea that what games can do from a storytelling standpoint. So the idea that I now have the ability to go back in the world of video games and pull a story out and make it interactive in the movie theater, just like the game was. It was a PS3, PS4 game. Very exciting.
That’s awesome. Congrats. Then my last question here, Spiral released when the restrictions were kind of starting to let up and theaters were opening back up. But not everybody got to experience it in theaters. So that makes the retail release with the Blu-ray even more exciting. How excited are you that all the Saw fans that maybe couldn’t see it due to restrictions or health issues can finally see it now?
I mean, it’s great. I feel I’m really proud of this movie. I’m finally excited that people get to see it. Obviously. I wish they would’ve seen it in the theaters, but I’m glad that it’s finally that you can own it and see the behind-the-scenes features and watch it in the comfort of your home. So I’m very excited.