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Hitting cinemas on Monday 17 May — the day UK cinemas can finally reopen — Spiral: From The Book of Saw, the latest instalment of the irresistibly grizzly Saw series, adds some new tweaks to the franchise’s familiar game of life or limb.
Helmed by parts two, three and four director Darren Lynn Bousman, Spiral: From The Book of Saw invites comedy megastar Chris Rock to steer the Saw ship into new genre waters. He stars as Zeke, a jaded cop with a troubled past who’s unwittingly drawn into investigating a series of twisted murders that bear an eerie resemblance to the work of the Jigsaw killer.
Together with Max Minghella’s rookie cop William, Zeke finds himself at the centre of a bloody game that links right back to his troubled relationship with his supercop father, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
“I love all the other Saw movies but there’s almost no humour in them,” says Rock on the decision to inject this well known horror series with a light dose of buddy cop comedy.
“Once we decided to add humour, it opened us up a little bit. It was always going to stay fresh.” The Tambourine star’s entry into the world of pig masks and creepy puppets is pretty fortuitous. After finding himself sat next to Lionsgate Chairman Michael Burns at a friend’s wedding, Rock happened to mention he was a huge horror fan, with a particular fondness for the Saw series that director James Wan started 17 years ago.
A meeting with long-time franchise producers Mark Burg and Oren Kouls was fast-tracked and before you could say ‘let’s play a game’, Rock was installed as Executive Producer and a script for Spiral was in the works.
“We needed someone like Chris to come in and allow a change to happen,” admits Bousman. “For Saw III or Saw IV, I know that if I were to try and put a joke in there or anything even mildly humorous it would’ve been shut down in a second. In my opinion, Saw needed to change,” he reasons.
Watch a trailer for Spiral: From The Book of Saw
“There’s eight of them and they’re so dense with mythology. They’re complicated too - if you miss a movie, you really can’t just jump in on one because the timelines are so connected. To have Chris come in and have this idea of opening up the Saw world a little bit was great.”
It was Rock who suggested that merging the Jigsaw killer’s boobie-trap kills with a touch of dark comedy could be the shot in the arm the series needed. “A movie that Chris referenced which changed everything for me was 48 Hours,” adds Bousman, pointing to Joel Silver’s 1982 action comedy that paired Nick Nolte with fresh-faced stand up star Eddie Murphy.
Read more: Why Saw II is the pinnacle of the franchise
“I remember 48 Hours as a comedy but it’s really not. You go back and watch it and see that it’s a serious crime cop story with moments of humour from Eddie Murphy,” he explains, “but those are the moments that you remember.”
This light-touch comedic approach is most evident in Spiral’s opening act, before the mystery killer’s gruesome trapwork lures Zeke deeper into his bloody world. One scene involving a bit of pre-heist chatter from Zeke about Forrest Gump whilst working undercover is particularly reminiscent of the stand-up that helped make Rock a household name.
“I’m never trying to make Max laugh,” says the star, clarifying the comic style that gives Spiral its buddy-cop flavour. “I’m totally in character all the time. Everything I say to him is from the perspective of a cop, from the perspective of a guy that’s more than 20 years older than him, a guy that’s been married and divorced,” he details. “I do want to get laughs - but it’s this delicate dance I’ve got to do where I’m only trying to make the audience laugh.”
Watch the opening of Spiral
Bousman recalls crafting the scene that introduces audiences to Zeke: “We had another scene written and Chris came to me before we started filming and said ‘I think we can do better’. A day later he hands me these four pages and I was laughing out loud in my trailer,” smiles the Director.
“What Chris was great at was the classic thing you see at the end of comedy movies where a comedian will say something different each time. That only happened a few times but when they did it was one of my favourite things.”
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Rock’s dedication to towing the line between grounded humour and gritty terror was something that Bousman welcomed: “He would do a scene then come back the next day saying ‘I can do better’. When he did it again there might be a momentary glimpse of humour in it that completely made the scene a hundred times better.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Saw movie without some flesh-ripping would-you-rathers from the movie’s shadowy big-bad. Spiral certainly doesn’t disappoint on this front, with Zeke encountering a string of vindictive and teeth-clenching traps that attempt to dish out justice, Jigsaw-style.
“The thing about those traps is that, if you’re paying attention, there’s an automatic reaction so you don’t have to act like you’re scared - they’re scary,” laughs Rock on his ability to authentically appear terrified as the movie’s body count increases. “They’re even scary when you know it’s a movie. You’re like ‘this is frightening’ - so I didn’t have a hard time getting into character.”
Meanwhile, having already helmed three previous Saw killing sprees, Bousman has got terrifying audiences down to a fine art: “When it comes to capturing those traps you focus on the reactions and the pain and the screams,” he tells us, detailing one such Spiral sequence involving flying glass shards and an unfortunately placed character.
“To me, that’s more frightening than seeing actual pieces of glass embedding in the character. Yes, we show the violence - but the primary lion’s share of the scene is on this guy’s face. I think playing on the actors makes it so much more horrific to me. Focusing on the reactions is the best.”
Originally due out back in May 2020, we probably don’t need to tell you why Spiral: From The Book of Saw is only just appearing on screens across the UK. However despite arriving a year later than planned, both Rock and Bousman are confident that the movie will be more than worth the wait for hardcore fans of this long-running horror franchise.
“I’m proud of the movie and the work we did on it,” says Bousman. “It’s an awesome thing that this will be the movie that helps get people back into theatres - and to be on IMAX screens is so exciting.”
Read more: Saw's complex timeline explained
“I hate it when you make a movie and a global pandemic breaks out and you’ve got to push it - every time that happens, I get pissed,” adds Rock with a laugh.
“There’s two great movie experiences: seeing a comedy with a bunch of people and seeing a horror movie with a bunch of people and there’s no substitute for it,” he smiles.
“To be scared with 200 strangers? There’s nothing like it.”
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is in UK cinemas 17 May.