Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson Dip Into the Gory Mess of ‘Spiral: From the Book of Saw’

Nearly 17 years since the first “Saw” film, “Spiral” lands to prove there’s still some appeal in the gory franchise. It is a series that keeps alive classic traditions in B-horror, such as always finding a way to tap into recent headlines. Previous entries have even made statements about the need for affordable healthcare in the United States. Now the franchise takes aim at police brutality and corruption, putting a badge on Chris Rock, who becomes a detective investigating a new spree of bloodshed. This also marks a return for director Darren Lynn Bousman to the “Saw” world after having helmed entries II, III and IV. 

“We’re continually changing and redefining this series,” Bousman told Entertainment Voice when discussing his latest dive into the world of the Jigsaw killer. “The minute the audience begins to feel comfortable we do something different, whether it was the jump from the first ‘Saw’ to the second movie with a new director, new direction, to bringing in Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson, it’s continually redefining itself. That’s the main reason I came back this time.” If you haven’t seen the previous entries and spinoffs, “Spiral” offers a very straightforward plot. Rock plays Detective Zeke Banks, a cynic who has grown iron cold on the job. Banks is partnered with a rookie, William Schenk (Max Minghella), who gets his first, queasy case when he and Banks are called into a gruesome crime scene. A detective has been tortured and killed via Metro train, with his tongue ripped out. A message soon arrives on Banks’ computer with the spiraled icon of the infamous but supposedly dead Jigsaw. It turns out the killer, or this new psycho taking on the mantle, has decided to target corrupt cops, working his way up a line of targeted officers. Banks is determined to stop the rampage despite his own issues with internal affairs, and the ensuing faceoff will also pull in his father and fellow law man, Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson).

Bousman keeps intact the typical look of a “Saw” film, with drained colors and sepias. Somehow this series still finds ways to invent new forms of cringe-inducing torture, like the opening scene in a subway tunnel where a crooked detective has his tongue caught in a vice, with the new Jigsaw informing him he has two choices: Rip his tongue off and escape, or face the train and die. To the glee of horror geeks, we get both. “I felt I was able to do a lot with the last three movies I directed, so I decided to walk away while it still felt fresh and I was on top. To come back it had to be something different, something we could do as a complete turn,” said Bousman. “The minute I knew we had Chris Rock I knew this was going to be something special.” Rock stiffly takes on the role, playing Banks with a deadpan seriousness that will surprise many of the comedian’s fans. In many ways he’s also a recognizable movie detective grump, cracking cynical marriage jokes to a naïve Schenk. When they find a dead body Banks coldly observes the scene while Schenk nearly pukes. “Chris early on said, ‘I’ll leave the tension and horror to you, you leave the character and comedy to me.’ That helped me process a lot. He wanted it to be real and would call ‘bullshit’ a lot, pointing out something in the script that he felt he wouldn’t say. Chris had a rule that a character can’t say something sounding like he’s saying it for the first time if in real life he would already know about it.”

“I think the fans respond to numerous aspects of these films, not just the blood and horror,” said Bousman, “It’s not just the twist and moralistic message. It’s everything. We were pulling from different fan bases because we wanted to appeal to people who like thrillers, people who like horror, etc. This is why it has persevered.” Campy and full of easy scares, “Spiral” is a darker version of a buddy-cop movie, except with lots of viscera thrown around. This sets it apart from other entries and Bousman and Rock were looking at specific influences when preparing. “‘70s exploitation and horror is my favorite era in the movies,” said the director. “When Chris and I sat down for the first time we each mentioned a movie and said ‘this is what I see.’ Chris mentioned ‘48 Hrs’ and I said to him ‘Seven.’ It had been a while since I’d seen ’48 Hrs’ and I remembered it as a comedy. But when I re-watched it, I realized it’s pretty hard-edged. It’s a hard-boiled cop movie that happens to have moments of humor with Eddie Murphy. At that moment, I got what we wanted to do. So we wanted to blend that love of movies like David Fincher’s ‘Seven’ and ’48 Hrs.’” Samuel L. Jackson gives the best performance in the film however as a retired cop who commands much respect and of course, is at loggerheads with Banks. “He is the embodiment of all of his work,” said Bousman. “When he walked in I didn’t see Samuel L. Jackson, I saw Jewels from ‘Pulp Fiction,’ I saw ‘Black Snake Moan’ and ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight.’ When I walked in I thought, ‘this is not just the coolest motherfucker in this room, but in this entire city.’ It was such an honor to work with him.”

Actor Max Minghella also concurred when he told Entertainment Voice about the unique take “Spiral” brings to the Jigsaw world with fresh influences. “It’s very much a ‘Saw’ movie, and ‘Saw’ movies have a specific visual language to them, and mythology, and it very much is a ‘Saw’ film, and very much for the fans. It also has one foot in this lineage of ‘48 Hours’ and ‘Beverly Hills Cop,’ these movies that I grew up watching religiously. So, for me, it’s a kind of an unique wish fulfillment to get to be a part of a project like that,” said Minghella, who convincingly plays the more inexperienced rookie to Rock’s icy veteran. Also rounding out the cast nicely is Marisol Nichols of “Riverdale” as a tough police captain, bringing some real grit. Bousman noticed that Nichols just had to glance once at a page and that was enough to lock all the dialogue down. 

But what will draw “Saw” fans is the continuing morbidly entertaining spirit of the franchise. This time around wax and human marionettes provide fresh scares as the new killer inches towards his goal. It might not be the best serving for nonfans, but Bousman feels there’s a particular reason for devotees to love this style of shock cinema. “There was a study done by the University of Chicago,” said the director, “and it basically was talking about a study done about the pandemic. They found that people who watch horror films, who are avid horror watchers were able to deal with the pandemic a lot easier than people who push horror away. Horror forces you to internalize drama. What would you do in a zombie apocalypse? For 90 minutes you’re in a perilous situation. So the study found that horror lovers are more adept at perilous situations.”

Spiral: From the Book of Saw” releases May 14 in theaters nationwide.