Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in. Having directed three instalments of the Saw franchise way back in the 2000s, Darren Lynn Bousman hadn’t worked on a Saw film since 2007’s Saw 4. And then, more than a decade later, the phone rang.
“It was crazy,” Bousman tells RadioTimes.com during an exclusive one-on-one interview. “I was about to move to New York and direct a Broadway show. And I got a phone call from Mark Berg, who’s the producer of the Saw universe, who said, ‘Hey, I need you to come back to Los Angeles. You need to meet with Chris Rock.’
“And I wasn’t even putting in my mind that Chris Rock. And I was like, ‘Who? Who’s Chris Rock?’ It just didn’t connect. And he’s like, ‘Darren. Chris Rock.‘ And I was like, ‘Not that Chris Rock?’ And he was like, ‘That Chris Rock.’”
That Chris Rock, the famous comedian and actor, had, by this point, met up with the bosses of Lionsgate and developed the idea for Spiral: From the Book of Saw. It’s a fresh expansion of the horror franchise that Bousman used to work on, a relaunch of sorts – albeit in the same continuity as the original films – that would see Rock himself starring as a detective on the hunt for a new killer.
As Rock tells RadioTimes.com and other press during a virtual press event, the idea hadn’t always been for Bousman to return. “Early on, I was gonna direct it,” Rock remembers. “And then when I realised how much of a responsibility Fargo was, I was like, ‘OK, I don’t want to be on the set of Fargo editing a movie. I think Fargo is gonna require all my concentration.’ So then it was like, OK, who are we gonna get to direct it? And I immediately thought of Darren [Lynn Bousman], and everybody agreed he’d be perfect.”
Bousman received that fateful phone call, and a script was sent over. As Bousman remembers it: “I didn’t realise when I got the script that it was the next Saw movie. It didn’t say Saw on it – it was called Organ Donor. And it was like page 15 or 16, I was like, ‘Holy f**king s**t. This is Chris Rock and this is Saw.’ And so I got to Los Angeles, and I met Chris Rock at a diner.
“And I was like, ‘There’s no way he’s going to do this. Why the f**k would Chris Rock come on board to do this thing?’ And I sat down with him, and he was a huge horror fan and a huge Saw fan, and immediately we just hit it off. It was a surreal, crazy experience.”
Bousman did not take much convincing. As he puts it, “When Chris Rock says we want you to come direct a Saw movie, you just say yes. Right then, right there.
“It was exciting, because I remember sitting with him, and he was talking about casting. And he said something like, ‘You know, maybe we go to Sam Jackson to play my dad.’ And I was like, ‘What? No, he’s not gonna do this.’ And he basically said to me, ‘Just like I wouldn’t do it?’” Samuel L Jackson did indeed come on board, becoming the second Hollywood megastar to suddenly be joining the Saw franchise.
“And so, next thing I knew, I had two powerhouse actors attached to this movie,” Bousman fondly remembers. “So yeah, it was a no-brainer for me to do the movie at that point.” And it didn’t get any less surreal when the time came for Rock, Jackson and Bousman to work together on the set of Spiral.
In Bousman’s words, “It was the most insane crazy. It was surreal. Chris and I became friends over the first month of prep. So I knew Chris. I’d spoken to him numerous times. So he wasn’t as much of a shock to me [compared to] when Sam showed up on set, because I didn’t talk to Sam before that. He was on another movie somewhere. And I didn’t meet him until he showed up literally walking on set to be directed.
“And I was like, ‘Holy f**king s**t, it’s Samuel f**king Jackson.’ You know, I grew up watching this guy. I don’t know how many times I saw Pulp Fiction in the theatre. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen movies of his that had a profound impact. So it just didn’t seem real. And then the reality that I was making a Saw movie with these two guys – it’s already insane enough to work with them, and then to know I’m making a Saw movie with them? It was crazy.”
It’s not just any Saw movie, either. Spiral: From the Book of Saw turns over a fresh page for the franchise, bringing in new detectives (both Rock and Jackson’s characters are lawmen), a new killer and even a new puppet. Bousman spoke to us at length about those changes, before touching on the ways in which horror itself has changed since the early days of Saw.
“Saw, when it first came out in 2004, and then onwards until about 2008 or 2009, you had that really prime ‘splat pack/torture porn’ sub-genre that was labelled, where movies were a lot more vicious and violent. Then, as you kind of went into 2010s, that shifted a little bit.
“And you’re in a different space right now than we were even then [in the 2010s]. And you’re seeing people like Ari Aster who did Midsommar and Hereditary, or Robert Eggers who did The Lighthouse. Those types of films that are more slow-burn, that get under your skin, that foreboding sense of dread. Those are movies that I personally respond to a lot.
“I think that those are dynamic and remind me of my favourite films back in the ’70s that I loved, like Rosemary’s Baby, those type of things. You know, horror goes in cycles. You never know what it’s going to be. I think coming out of this pandemic, we’re gonna see a major shift in horror films. I think there’s going to be a completely new style of horror coming out of the pandemic era. And, you know, I never know – the minute I think I’ve got it figured out, it changes.”
Speaking of the pandemic, Bousman notes that “we actually locked [the final edit on Spiral] two days before lockdown began. It couldn’t have been a crazier time. Because we were supposed to come out 21st May last year. We locked the movie on like 7th March. We left Toronto thinking it was gonna come out in May.
“And then the border was shut like two weeks later. And then the United States and the whole world shut down two weeks after that. So come 1st April, everything is shut down, the movie’s finished and our date gets pushed.
“It would have cost a small fortune to reopen the movie back up at that point, due to COVID protocols. And we had just finished the visual effects. We just finished the score. We just finished the mix, so it stayed the same. I think in retrospect, if we would have known that we had a whole other year, that would have been different. But we didn’t know, we were playing it day by day, we had no idea what was going to happen day by day, so the film remained locked.”
Now, almost exactly a year on from that original release date, Spiral is finally coming out. Playing as more of a thriller than an all-out gorefest, it’s easy to see how the shifting horror landscape impacted the film.
And with this fresh new take on the franchise established, there could be room for Spiral 2 and further Saw sequels. But Bousman says to that, “That is way above my paygrade.” Only time will tell if the games continue…