When Darren Lynn Bousman heard the news that Chris Rock wanted to make a new Saw movie, he had the same reaction many of us. “I paused and I was just like ‘Chris who?’ Because, of course, in my mind, never in a million years would that Chris Rock want to meet with me,” the director of Spiral: From the Book of Saw told Gizmodo over the phone this week. But it was that Chris Rock.
Bousman, who directed Saw II, III, and IV — not to mention cult classic Repo! The Genetic Opera — was in New York to direct a Broadway show when he got a call from a producer who said he was needed back in Los Angeles. Apparently, a certain person who definitely couldn’t be the former Saturday Night Live cast member, Oscar host, and mega successful comedian/movie star wanted to meet with him. So Bousman got on the flight and began reading a script sent to him called Brain Donor. “I’m on the flight and I open the script up and like on page 18, I out loud vocally said, ‘Oh fuck,’ because I realised it was Saw,” Bousman said. Rock had been working with Jigsaw writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger for a few months before they turned to Bousman and two met for breakfast the next day. “It was the most surreal bacon and eggs I’ve ever had,” he said.
As Bousman tells it, Rock had long been a Saw fan but had one major problem with the franchise. “He had made a couple of statements over the years about Saw II and said the one problem that Saw II had was it took itself too seriously,” Bousman said. “He said that movie would have worked a lot better if Donnie Wahlberg would have had one or two jokes.” Bousman continued, “One of our mandates when I was doing [Saw movies] was there was no humour. It was bleak. And so Chris was like, ‘I’m telling you. If you just make it a little bit funny — not a lot, just a little bit — you’re going to open up your audience.’ And so that’s how it started. Can we make a Saw film with a little bit of levity? And then it kind of spiraled into what it is right now.”
When Bousman left the Saw franchise in 2007, he was ready to be done. He had planned on leaving after Saw II but each film was such a financial success he kept coming back. Ultimately though, after three movies in three years, he didn’t feel challenged anymore so there was no guarantee he’d come back this time. Apparently, those bacon and eggs were very good. “When you find out you have a movie that could have Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson and Max Minghella, all of a sudden it opens up a world of possibilities for me as a filmmaker,” he said. “But that also comes with 15 years of being absent, knowing the fandom has grown, and knowing the expectations of these fans, specifically to say one of the original architects is coming back with Chris Rock. The pressure was just insane.”
That pressure also led Bousman to make a few key, potentially controversial decisions, early on. The biggest one is he decided actor Tobin Bell, who played the original Jigsaw, John Kramer, in all of the previous Saw movies, couldn’t reprise his character. “Even if they said to me, ‘Yes, Tobin wants to do it, he’ll come back.’ I couldn’t do that because no one will compete with Tobin. No one. It’s impossible,” Bousman said. “So the last thing that I want to do is make him a character in this thing when I’m trying to tell a new story.”
Bousman also decided the unforgettable image of Billy the puppet had to go. “He becomes so ingrained in people’s [minds],” Bousman said. “I was like, again, if we’re going to try to make something new, we need to make something new.” But Spiral isn’t totally new. The killer has a new puppet this time around (a pig) and one key crew member does make a triumphant return. “To me, the most important thing [to bring back] was Charlie Clouser’s music,” Bousman said. “That says Saw to me.”
And, of course, Spiral is again filled with terrifying, elaborate torture devices. Bousman and his team built them not just to meet the needs of the script, but actually made them in reality. Each device went through numerous tests to make sure that, in some horrible alternate universe, they would actually, hypothetically, work. For example, a trap in Spiral involving glass was built and tested on a mannequin. When the team saw what it could do to a body, it made the film. Another, involving a character’s mouth, was tested and didn’t quite work, so it was scrapped and reinvented to be more believable. “I will probably be arrested and or put on every government watch list for the shit I’ve had to look up online about different ways to kill people and what it actually looks like,” Bousman said. “[But] my favourite aspect of these movies is the monotony of ensuring these traps are as organic and realistic as they’re portrayed in the movie.”
With Spiral hopefully hitting just that right balance of old and new, Bousman is looking toward the past to inform the future. He said when he made Saw II he didn’t think there would be another film. But when that was a hit and he came back for Saw III, he made it with Saw IV in mind. So, when asked if Spiral was made with sequels in mind, Bousman said yes — but also that he believes Spiral isn’t the end all be all of Saw.
“There are things that are 100% seeded in [Spiral], 100% are not paid off or misdirections to give us room if we end up making a sequel,” Bousman said. “Now, the sequel only comes about if people go see the first one. So I hesitate to say there is going to be a sequel or anything like that, but if people go see part one I think what’s exciting to me is not only can I stay there [could] possibly be a part two, but that does not invalidate there being another Saw movie. Meaning, this is the ninth instalment of Saw, but it’s not Saw 9. It’s Spiral. There still could be a Saw 9. There still could be a Jigsaw, Costas Mandylor Saw 9, as well as a Spiral 2, as well as a TV show, all happening concurrently. So that would be the hope, I think.”