“It’s this guy who gets twisted around by his arms and legs in a cross-like thing,” says Saw franchise director Darren Lynn Bousman. He’s sharing details of his favourite traps in the Saw franchise — as he chats to Fandom about the latest instalment, the ninth in the long-running film series, Spiral: From the Book of Saw — and this is the trap he considers most disturbing from the movies. “[That’s] one that just f—- me up. It’s called ‘the Rack’ – it’s in Saw III.”
The title of best Saw trap, however, according to Bousman, belongs to the needle pit from Saw II. “Because it’s so simple,” says the director. “It’s simple. You look at it, you know what it is. There is an inherent fear of needles, or sickness, or germs, and I think those three things are encapsulated in the needle trap.”
Bousman isn’t wrong – and it’s particularly true right now as we continue to navigate the current pandemic. But while the first is a difficult watch, and the second’s brilliance is in its simplicity, neither one is the trap he thinks is the sickest. That label is reserved for one from the franchise’s most recent chapter; a device he calls the most “mean-spirited” of any that’s been conceived throughout the nine-movie narrative.
“The one that I think is the most mean-spirited, the one that I think is just horrible, is the wax trap in [Spiral] because it’s basically just being waterboarded with wax. And I think that is… it’s just no good,” says Bousman.
It’s a surprise to hear Bousman go here, given the secrecy that surrounds the plot details of the Saw franchise, which relies on clandestine twists, hush-hush motives, and secret apprentices to keep things tense and maintain a sense of mystery. Bousman even goes so far as to keep plot details secret from the cast – more on which later.
Subway, No Way
One cast member, The Handmaid’s Tale’s Max Minghella, who has a starring role in Spiral as the cop partner to Chris Rock’s Detective Zeke Banks, might have been one of the privileged few in on what happens as one of the film’s main characters but is in the dark as to who tests the traps behind the scenes. He simply says he’s pretty sure they work in real life: “I know that most of the traps are functional, which is terrifying.” No s—.
Minghella, who watched the entire franchise before shooting began, says his favourite trap is one glimpsed in the Spiral trailer.
“Maybe I’m biased towards Spiral but my favourite trap is the subway trap in Spiral,” he offers. “It’s an amazing feat of engineering — you know, they built the whole subway station. It was so cool to see it in person. It’s very inventive, it’s a very clever concept. So that’s my number one.”
It’s a helluva way to kick off the film, that’s for sure. I wonder if they ever talked amongst themselves on set about what their worst trap nightmare would be. Riverdale star Marisol Nichols – aka Captain Angie Garza in the film – matches Minghella when she says it would be to be trapped in a room with creepy crawlies.
“They have to crawl on you and… just bugs,” she says. “Insects in general. There’s just something about them — they’re not from this planet, there’s just something wrong. That would be my worst, worst, worst nightmare.” Are you listening, Darren? There’s definitely something in that for a future film…
Bringing Samuel L Jackson on Board
Bousman has been on board the Saw train since the second instalment back in 2005, which he wrote and directed, going on to helm Saw III and Saw IV before departing and returning for Spiral. The latest instalment is generally considered by all involved to be a refresh for the series with Chris Rock on board as executive producer and star. Oh, and coming complete with a major role for icon of cinema, Samuel L Jackson, too.
But why did Jackson want to join the Saw franchise now?
“I have no idea,” shrugs Bousman. “And I asked him that right off the bat. When he showed up I was like, ‘Why are you on a f—— Saw movie?” I was so completely blown away because I did grow up watching this guy and I can’t count how many times I snuck out of school to go and see Pulp Fiction in the theatre. He was such an influential voice in shaping me as a filmmaker so it felt surreal and crazy. Even my parents flew into town from Kansas to go to Toronto to see Sam Jackson on set. He’s just a legend.”
Then he offers that perhaps it was the prospect of doing something audiences wouldn’t think he’d do that was tantalizing for Jackson: “I think that Sam just always wants to do things that are unexpected — and this was something very unexpected. You know, you put Chris Rock in a movie and then have Sam Jackson come in, it’s an unexpected twist.”
Less Gratuitous, More Graphic
Given that Bousman has stated previously that Spiral is less violent than other instalments, it’s natural to wonder whether the change in approach might have been a factor in the actor’s decision to join. Not that Jackson, a frequent collaborator of Quentin Tarantino, is averse to screen violence, of course. Perhaps it was, but Bousman is incredulous about the fact that he actually found this one harder to pass rating-wise than other films he’s been involved with.
“We got the NC-17 [rating] eleven times.” — Darren Lynn Bousman
“Regarding the violence, [this] was crazy, we wanted to make a more ‘thriller’ film than we wanted to go off and do gore, but I’ll tell you that in America I had more issues with the NPAA on this movie than I ever had on Saw II, III, or IV,” he reveals. “The NPAA is basically the ratings board, and we got the NC-17 [rating] eleven times. We had to keep going back and re-cutting the movie to try to get it to be acceptable for an R-rating. Which to me was just baffling because of all the movies I’ve done this is probably the least gratuitous and it was the one that was somewhat hyper-focused on [by] the NPAA this time around.”
While there might be an upswing in thriller elements and fewer incidences of “gratuitous” violence, what is shown is pretty graphic, with unflinching shots of precisely what’s happening as the traps kick in. Arguably, we see more than at any moment in the franchise prior: it’s all up there on screen. Whereas looking back at ‘the Rack’ trap sequence in Saw III, it’s actually your brain that fills in much of what’s happening as the guy is tortured and killed.
There’s plenty that Bousman can’t discuss while we chat for fear of spoilers –and he reveals that even the cast is largely kept in the dark.
“We didn’t give the script out at all, I don’t think — specifically the last 15 pages — to anyone outside the main four actors. Any of the day players never got the script; they would only get their scenes. None of the police officers in the film that were not Max, Chris, or Marisol — I don’t think they even got the last act,” says Bousman. “So we would do that. Because here’s the thing: when you’re making a movie like this, people leave their script on set. You know, you’re at “Video Village” [the area around the monitor on set where the crew observes the filming] and your script is just sitting there, or you leave one location and you leave behind pages. So we were very careful about not letting that happen. Originally, [Spiral] was called The Organ Donor. That was the working title so if people did find it, it wouldn’t say it was Saw 9. It was just called The Organ Donor. So there’s always that level of secrecy on a [Saw] film.”
Which isn’t surprising, perhaps, when he can’t even trust himself.
“I always live in fear of f—— up. I always live in fear that I’m accidentally going to Tweet something out or post the wrong picture or get drunk at a party somewhere and be like, ‘Hey, so-and-so’s the killer’. But luckily that didn’t happen yet!”
If you’re into spoilers, keep an eye on Bousman’s Twitter account – you never know what you could learn in future.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw hits screens in the US on May 14 and the UK on May 17.
To catch up on The Handmaid’s Tale, starring Spiral’s Max Minghella, and to buy merch, click here.