LOS ANGELES, May 14 (UPI) -- Spiral: From the Book of Saw is the ninth film in the lucrative Saw franchise that began in 2004. Star and executive producer Chris Rock originated the ninth film, but director Darren Lynn Bousman said it was important Spiral not simply repeat the past eight films.
"It would've been doing a disservice if we would've made Saw 9 with Chris Rock," Bousman told UPI in a Zoom interview. "His whole mantra was, 'Let's make a Saw movie, but let's just add a joke or two,'"
In Spiral, Rock portrays Detective Zeke Banks, who investigates a new serial killer targeting police officers and using methods similar to John Kramer, the Jigsaw Killer in the original series.
Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella and Marisol Nichols joined the cast, and Bousman returned to the franchise after he directed Saw II, III and IV.
Nichols plays Banks' captain, Angie Garza, who assigns Banks a new partner, William Schenk (Minghella). Jackson plays Marcus, Garza's predecessor in the department.
The 47-year-old Nichols experienced one of Rock's added jokes when he complained, "What am I, a Jamaican nanny?" when Garza assigned him a new partner. Nichols said Rock improvised a different line in every take.
"There were at least 10 other iterations of punchlines that he put in there," Nichols said.
Minghella said that in some scenes in Spiral, they could not stray from the script because the mystery depended on exact dialogue. Other scenes allowed the 35-year-old Minghella and 56-year-old Rock to improvise Banks and Schenk bonding.
"Almost all of the dialogue in the car is improvised," Minghella said. "It also helps build the relationship between the characters to make it feel real."
In the Saw movies, Kramer forced victims to atone for their sins by solving his gruesome traps, or die trying. The killer of Spiral targets police officers who have falsified evidence or committed unjustified violence.
Spiral has elaborate death traps to maintain continuity with the Saw films. However, Minghella said the focus on police made him feel like he was in a cop movie rather than a horror film.
"It obviously has the horror elements that you want from a Saw film," Minghella said. "[The filmmakers] were able to thread the balance between something old and something new."
The makers of Spiral, including screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, had the idea to apply the Saw theme to corrupt cops in 2019. Spiral was slated for release in May 2020, but was postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While awaiting their new release date, Bousman said Rock texted the 42-year-old director when the Breonna Taylor and George Floyd cases were in the news. Bousman said they did not set out to make a political film, but that police violence has been relevant for some time.
"Sadly, this has been in the news for many years, long before George Floyd," Bousman said.
Spiral is also not the first Saw movie to deal with the police, Minghella said. Danny Glover, Donnie Wahlberg, Dina Meyer, Lyriq Bent, Costas Mandylor and Scott Patterson all played police officers in the Saw franchise, and many fell into John Kramer's traps.
"It's such a tribute to all of the Saw mythology that they've always had this exploration of morality in relation to cops and detectives," Minghella said. "Give them the credit for being so ahead of the curve."
Bousman said that Spiral also balances its view of the police. For all the cops the killer considers guilty, Bousman said Banks is not one of them.
"It was critical for us that the hero also be a cop, as well, and come from the same department [as the corrupt cops]," Bousman said.
Nichols said she was surprised to discover how timely Spiral was when she saw the film recently. Nichols said she was focused on making a horror movie.
"It was just about a very deranged man who likes to torture and kill police officers for his own sort of justice," Nichols said.
In the Saw franchise, Kramer died in 2006's Saw III. Kramer had partners and disciples to carry on his work, but actor Tobin Bell continued to appear in every sequel via flashbacks.
Spiral is the first Saw movie that does not include Bell. Bousman said he made a difficult phone call to Bell, but the actor understood the series had to move on from Kramer.
"The minute you try to flashback 20 years ago to Tobin Bell, it invalidates it," Bousman said. "It makes it Saw 9."
Other differences between Spiral and Saw sequels include the locations. Most Saw movies take place in a single warehouse where victims face a series of traps.
Spiral shows Banks and Schenk investigating crime scenes in the field at different locations. The film opens at a crowded street fair.
"It was not claustrophobic," Bousman said. "I could actually do driving shots, be in big cities and have that opening shot with 1000 people in it."
One thing that has not changed for Saw movies is their battle with the Motion Picture Association of America ratings board. The board decides whether movies are rated G, PG, PG-13, R or NC-17.
Bousman said the board was stricter in 2020 than they were when he made his previous Saw movies. Bousman said he had to trim a specific number of slashes in some murder scenes to qualify for an R rating.
"How is two slices to the skin OK, but three, that's the number that's not OK?" Bousman ashed rhetorically. "Does it really make a difference if there's three cuts as opposed to two?"
Spiral is out in theaters now.