SPIRAL Director Darren Lynn Bousman Talks Subverting Expectations, His One Regret, & What's Next (Exclusive)
Ahead of Spiral making its debut on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray this week, we recently talked to Darren Lynn Bousman about his decision to return to the franchise, subverting expectations, and more!
This interview contains massive spoilers from Spiral, so proceed with caution if you haven't seen the film!
After over a decade away, Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II; Saw III; Saw IV) has returned to breathe new life into the Saw franchise with Spiral, which stars Chris Rock in the lead role with a supporting cast consisting of Samuel L. Jackson (Avengers: Endgame; Spider-Man: Far From Home; Secret Invasion), Max Minghella (The Handmaid's Tale; The Social Network; The Mindy Project), and Marisol Nichols (24; Riverdale; Teen Wolf).
To celebrate the film's home video release, we recently caught up with Bousman and talked about his decision to return to the franchise, how he wanted to subvert expectations, working with the comedic icon that is Chris Rock, creating the perfect trap for Samuel L. Jackson, that big final twist, and what may come next!
Check out the full SPOILER-filled interview below!
ROHAN: Spiral is billed as a horror film, but it feels a lot more like a psychological thriller - was the opportunity to subvert expectations something that played a part in your decision to return to the franchise?
DARREN: Yeah, it absolutely was. I think that when I came back on was, I’ve had numerous conversations over the years with Mark and Oren, who are the film’s producers, and I was very much always excited about the possibility of coming back, but I don’t think I’d ever had any desire to just make another Saw movie, anyone can do that. I wanted to do something that actually felt unique and different. Again, we had a few conversations in the last five or six years, but it was not until they called me and said, “Fly back to LA, you’re going to go meet with Chris Rock,” and I was like, “Holy shit!,” as a fan of the franchise, I would watch a Chris Rock Saw movie.
ROHAN: While it is a Saw film, you don't really hammer home many references to the past films, instead opting to go in a different direction. Was that always your intention?
DARREN: I wanted to make it more along the line of Se7en, that was the idea, and not so in-your-face horror, which the previous films have kind of been, so the idea going into it, we wanted to create a mood and atmosphere, Jordan Oram, the cinematographer, really did something special, same thing with Tony Cowley, our production designer, that idea that was hot and sticky, it was like the hottest week of the month, I think there’s such an interesting look in it, and noir-y as well, so I really really love that kind of Se7en look and I think that we were able to accomplish that, which was new for a Saw film, it kind of stepped away from that classic gross green.
ROHAN: Chris Rock is Chris Rock, so even with all this horrifying stuff going on, he's still able to bring a sense of levity to his scenes. Did that sort of present a unique challenge, incorporating humor into this world?
DARREN: It was a balancing because Chris Rock is Chris Rock and he’s hilarious and he’s one of the greatest living comedians of our time, but you had to balance that out and also make him a dramatic character, so he would always give us gold. There was so many hilarious one-liners that did not make the movie because it was a balancing act so the car scene where he’s on a ride with Max Minghella That goes on 3 minutes longer and he's literally dropping some of the funniest goddamn things you've ever heard, the subway scene is three minutes longer, he’s saying some of the funniest shit you’ve heard, but in the tone of the movie it didn't make sense. It was quite a bit of figuring out the balancing of that tone.
ROHAN: Which trap proved to be the most difficult to pull off? I imagine that last trap with Samuel L. Jackson couldn't have been easy...
DARREN: I think, for me, the subway trap was the hardest to pull off from a practical standpoint and the Sam Jackson one. Sam Jackson, who is an A-list actor, hanging there for so long, while getting squibs shot at him, while there’s special effects, blood, rigs, prosthetics, so from a production standpoint, that was the hardest, but I also think the one I’m most proud of is the subway trap, but that’s all a build, that’s a force perspective build, so when you would actually walk into that, the tunnel was small, but it looked like it was huge, because it was painted to look big.
ROHAN: We always hear that when you don't physically see a character die, that they're usually still alive or could be brought back, so did you consider any alternatives to Schenk's off-screen death? Something to maybe throw people off the scent more?
DARREN: It was a big struggle to figure out that thing. We wanted, to us, here's one of the things and again, I regret this, this is something that I regret looking back, we didn't really keep the idea of or the identity of the serial killer that much of a secret. Normally, in the Saw movies, the The twist is who is the killer, but I think most audiences are going to figure it out in the first 30 minutes. We knew that going in that the audience is so smart at this point you're not really going to trick them unless you completely trick them by not being fair in how you’re presenting the movie.
So we said let them guess the serial killer, that's fine, but that last 6-7 minutes, when he comes in, You still want to be able to hit them over the face with something they didn't see coming. So, I think that's the mode that we took, in retrospect maybe we should have add more red herrings, made a bigger meal out of it, because I think that's what the audience wanted but going into it we just thought we needed to go in a different way with it.
ROHAN: Zeke and Schenk are more or less two sides of the same coin, but they obviously go in different directions with how they handle things. Did you have any alternate endings to the film?
DARREN: There were a lot of different endings that we played around with, like with all movies the movie is much longer than the version that you see probably by 45 minutes, and there was a lot of cutting things out not because we changed the movie, but because they just didn't work, scenes didn't work traps didn't work, dialogue didn't work. In that, there were some things that we filmed that just didn't make sense when we watched the edit, like there was another trap with Sam Jackson that he kind of stumbled into and it was comical, we looked at it and people laughed, not in a good way, in a ‘this is cheesy’ way, so you have to make some of those hard choices.
There was another scene with Max that we wanted to do, but then COVID hit and it became too problematic because our movie was finishing right when the height of COVID hit, so we were never able to kind of do that in retrospect, again, there are things I wish I could’ve done, but I think that’s any movie. Any movie I’ve done, it’s never finished, you just have to walk away from it.
ROHAN: I think each of your previous three Saw films had a director’s cut... will there be an extended version of this film?
DARREN: One of the things is, I take a lot of extreme risks in my editing and I'm held back a little bit by the producers being like, ‘I don't think that's the right thing to do Darren,’ and I always get frustrated but 95% of the time, they're right and I'm wrong. I look at their notes and I'm like, ‘Yeah this is better, this is more commercial.’ Like I shot a lot of really insane transitions this time, basically seamless transitions from scene to scene, that were cut out, and I was so broken up about that, but then when I saw it without them, I was like, ‘Yeah, That's actually better without these things.’ There’s always that give and take of wishing you can put more in there, but you also want to deliver the most dynamic version to an audience, not just what I think is cool, but what the audience is actually going to respond to.
ROHAN: Schenk ultimately gets away, and you abruptly end the film with Zeke watching his father being killed. Have you had discussions with Chris and Max about what a follow-up could look like?
DARREN: Yeah, Josh Stolberg, the writer, and myself have talked about different ideas and I’ve definitely had conversations with Max that if there is another film, in the same way, if you back and look at Saw II, Jigsaw wasn’t a character until Saw II, he was a guy on the floor, but in Saw II, you actually got to delve into his reasons and his beliefs, and I think the same thing with Saw III, where you really got to know him, so I think we sort of approached Max’s character in the same way, that he was elusive in the first one, but in the second one, you would get a real peek behind the curtain of who this guy is.
Spiral is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD!