Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter listens to the filmmakers behind this year’s Saw reboot, Spiral.
The Saw franchise is one of the horror genre’s longest-running and most successful. Its sequels ran their annual course in 2010, but two attempts to reboot it have met with mixed results. The latest, Spiral, sees the return of director Darren Lynn Bousman who previously helmed the second, third, and fourth entries (see my review here). But the bigger surprise is the interest and presence of a certain comedic performer. The film is new to 4K UltraHD, Blu-ray, and DVD, so I sat down for a rewatch. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Spiral.
Commentators: Darren Lynn Bousman (director), Josh Stolberg (co-writer), Charlie Clouser (composer)
1. Bousman wanted to “open up” the traditional world of the Saw films by opening this latest entry with a crowd. Look at all those extras! Probably more people on screen here than in the entirety of the franchise combined.
2. The opening scenes were filmed at a fairground in Toronto where they thought they had permission — but they did not. Authorities kicked them out, but Bousman and his team managed to steal these shots “which I’m pretty proud of.”
3. A physical manhole was built, but it was “a Canadian manhole” that stood three feet above the ground. It was nixed in favor of a visual effect.
4. Bousman wanted a subway tunnel, but he was told the logistics just weren’t in the budget. He held his ground, and they eventually built a subway tunnel set to meet their needs. It’s a super small set that uses forced perspective to make things look bigger than they are.
5. The opening kill in Spiral was originally written to have fish hooks piercing Det. Boswick’s (Dan Petronijevic) tongue, but Bousman is a firm believer in having traps that would physically work the way they’re suggesting — and fish hooks would have simply shredded the tongue as opposed to ripping it out. They changed it to a vice, and “when one of the producers showed up on set they were not happy.”
6. Surprising no one, Det. Zeke Banks’ (Chris Rock) introductory scene was essentially written by Rock himself.
7. Banks’ undercover “robbery” was shot as a single shot, but it ran three minutes and they were worried they’d lose the audience so it was trimmed.
8. Bousman realized during production on Spiral that Marisol Nichols (who plays Cpt. Angie Garza) played Audrey Griswold in Vegas Vacation (1997), and he geeked out.
9. Part of the appeal for Bousman in returning to the Saw universe — his first time back since Saw IV (2007) — was the opportunity change things up visually. He accomplished this with the help of cinematographer Jordan Oram.
10. One of Bousman’s few disagreements with Rock was about Banks not recognizing his best friend’s remains. Rock thought he would, but Bousman felt the body was destroyed to such a degree that it would be impossible. They shot additional dialogue at the scene with Banks commenting to that point, but it was trimmed for time.
11. There was no puppet in the original script for Spiral, but Bousman insisted on its return in some form. The result was Mister Snuggles the marionette pig cop.
12. There’s an extra in a black tank top during the police station scenes who kept “finding the camera” and forcing Bousman to cut around or zoom past her.
13. The two big influences here outside of the Saw films are Seven (1995) and 48 Hrs (1982).
14. Rock looked into the camera after his emotional outburst in the police station and said “Lest anyone forget, I was in Pootie Tang, so I have range.”
15. The director was unsettled while filming the first scene with Banks’ father (played by Samuel L. Jackson). He told the actor what to do for a shot, and Jackson said “nah” and added that he was going to sit in a different spot instead. “My butthole puckered,” says Bousman, but after speaking to a friend who had previously worked with Jackson he realized the actor was just testing him to see if he was a filmmaker who would stand up for what he wanted.
16. Det. Drury (K.C. Collins) originally had a bigger role and a “horrific death” scene but they cut it out for being “too much.” Other words used to describe the death and its practical effects include intense, gruesome, graphic, horrific, and mean-spirited — and they cut it to appeal to a more mainstream audience. What a terrible goddamn choice.
17. Jackson’s very first line of dialogue on his very first day of production was… “Mother fucker.”
18. The killer’s voice went through numerous iterations as Bousman didn’t want it to sound like Jigsaw. He preferred something akin to a child’s voice, which didn’t quite work, and they tried using Max Minghella‘s as well. They ultimately went with the underwhelming one we have now.
19. “I get so fucking angry watching this,” says Bousman during the finger-skinning sequence knowing that they lost so much of it to the whims of the MPAA. “You saw every finger break, every bone pop, every knuckle snap.”
20. The meth dealer is played by “an insanely talented magician” named Chris Ramsay whose YouTube videos helped teach Bousman magic tricks.
21. The scene in the church was originally set to be filmed in a basement, but Rock wasn’t having it. He walked Bousman to a nearby church and said they should film it there, and while the director doubted they would be given access Rock made it happen. He did the same with an earlier scene moving it from a repeated location to a nearby diner.
22. Test audiences predominantly suspected Det. O’Brien (Thomas Mitchell) as the killer, which is nuts seeing as Minghella’s inescapably obvious Det. Schenk is right there. To that last point, there were some dialogue beats that Minghella didn’t want to say as he felt they would give his guilt away.
23. They shot a brief look at Schenk’s body hanging to help convince viewers he was actually dead, but they wanted to abide by the rules meaning they could only show things that actually happened.
24. The MPAA ripped into the skinning scene, insisting on shots being cut by mere frames at a time, and they also shredded the wax face peel. Because they’re dicks.
24. Bousman’s favorite trap in Spiral is the wax waterboarding.
25. No one on the commentary explains why the police precinct’s evidence room door has a combination lock.
26. Rock initially pitched the studio who put him in touch with producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules. They in turn contacted Stolberg and told him to make it happen. He and co-writer Pete Goldfinger worked with Rock starting from his original setup — he wanted to see what would happen if he/his character woke up handcuffed to a pipe and was asked to cut off his own hand to escape.
27. There are no official plans for a sequel, but Bousman and Minghella had numerous conversations regarding the character and where they could go with him and the story.
28. Bousman asked Jackson why he agreed to play a character in a Saw film, and the actor said “if there’s an interesting death, I’ll do it, and this is an interesting death.” He’s not wrong, and it’s also the best scene in Spiral as it marries the trap mechanics with a strong condemnation of the police mentality about shooting first and asking questions later.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“Your house was a musical instrument.”
“I think I was fired this day.”
“If you’ve not seen the movie, turn off the fucking commentary.”
“We can’t use this room because it was used in Saw blankety blank.”
“I have those fingers sitting on my desk at home.”
“As a fucking filmmaker you design a fucking shot, you’re like look at this awesome oner oh wait it’s cut into twelve pieces now.”
“I don’t know that James [Wan] knows who I am to be honest.”
Final Thoughts on the Spiral Commentary
Spiral remains an odd duck of a franchise entry — the core concept involving bad cops is great, but the movie itself is not. Happily, Bousman gives a fantastic commentary track. His enthusiasm is evident throughout as he shares production details, anecdotes, and the thought process behind what works and what doesn’t. Fans should definitely give it a listen — and then go sign the petition for a director’s cut as Bousman’s constant references to unseen gore and one-shot sequences cut by editing has me wanting to see more.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.