‘Spiral’ stars explain the film’s twist ending and what’s next for the ‘Saw’ franchise
Warning: This story contains spoilers about the final scenes of “Spiral.” There will be another warning before discussion of the film’s ending. If you’d like to read some non-spoiler-y “Spiral” content, check out this article about how Chris Rock helped bring the film to life.
Following in the (ultra-gory) vein of its predecessors, Lionsgate’s “Spiral: From the Book of Saw,” the ninth installment in the “Saw” horror franchise and the series’ first spin-off, ends on a cliffhanger.
After waking up in a trap reminiscent of the original bathroom game from the first “Saw,” Chris Rock’s Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks finds himself handcuffed to a rusty pipe with only a hacksaw within reach.
Like Cary Elwes’ Doctor Gordon before him, he futilely attempts to saw off the cuffs. But as fans of the franchise know, the saw is intended for his flesh, not the cuffs.
“It’s one of those great visuals where you’re like, ‘Is he really going to do it?’” said Rock. “I don’t really hang a bunch of pictures of me around the house but that [shot] might go up in my office.”
“It was important for us to have fan service because the fans built this franchise,” said director Darren Lynn Bousman. “And so I had to give them things that rewarded those that have been with us for eight films. That scene was just a great full circle [return] to where we were with [the first] ‘Saw.’”
Warning: Major spoilers about the final scene of “Spiral” follow.
Fortunately for him, Banks spies a bobby pin on the ground by his feet and successfully picks the lock just in time for the next part of the game: After witnessing his former partner Pete Dunleavy die gruesomely, Banks comes face to face with the latest Jigsaw copycat — rookie cop William Schenk, played by Max Minghella, who served as Banks’ most recent partner.
It turns out Schenk’s father was Charlie Emmerson, a witness Dunleavy killed after the man had agreed to testify against an officer who killed a civilian. Once he’s revealed himself as the Jigsaw copycat, Schenk offers to team up with Banks — who had been labeled a rat by his department for turning Dunleavy in — to weed out corrupt officers in the precinct. “You find the dirty cops and I’ll take care of the rest,” he says.
“I think he believes that Zeke shares his own very specific moral compass which is kind of presumptuous and misguided,” said Minghella of his character. “But I think working with Zeke in such close proximity, he really loves him. He really thinks that he and Zeke get each other, that they have a shared perspective on the world and that they’re going to be able to team up like Batman and Robin.”
The reveal scene was the most challenging to shoot, says Minghella, who is also a series regular on Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” “I have to do a lot of talking and that scene also functioned as our rain cover — meaning that if anything ever happened with the weather or something went wrong, we would return to that set,” Minghella recalls. “And as a result, I needed to always be ready to shoot that scene no matter what we were doing or whatever else was on the schedule.”
It didn’t help that the scene was constantly being rewritten. “So it was like this 10-page scene that I would get a new draft of every day and would have to relearn,” he said. “That ended up being this almost constant acting class that I had to do every day.
“We’d shoot whatever was scripted or whatever was on the schedule and then I would go home and dive back into that section of the movie. I was actually really grateful for that at the end of the process because it reminded me of the duality of the role the whole time, even if I was playing the cover option, as I called it. I had to remember where it was all coming from.”
To prepare to play the villain, Minghella watched all eight of the previous “Saw” films, “some of them a couple of times.”
“I felt like, given the responsibility of the role, I had to really educate myself and go back through all of the movies,” he said. “It was quite fun to do, they have such a rich mythology. They’re kind of like the original ‘Avengers’: They have this one overarching narrative and once you get it, it’s really fun.”
Playing two sides of the same character was an exciting challenge, he says, particularly because the change is so subtle. “Usually in these movies, there is an external shift: Maybe their accents will change or they’ll suddenly stop speaking with a stutter or walking with a limp. There’s always a device. And believe me, there was a time of panic where I felt like I needed one too.
“It kind of forced me to make the shift of the character internal as opposed to external,” he added. “It’s almost like a spiritual shift as opposed to a physical one and that made it quite challenging and really exciting. It’s easily the hardest I’ve ever worked on something.”
Casting Minghella was a no-brainer, Bousman said. “I wanted someone quiet, reserved and innocent almost, yet still mysterious,” said Bousman. “And Max is every one of those things.
“‘Saw’ movies are a magic trick,” he added. “It’s all about misdirection of an audience: You show the audience one thing and hopefully deliver something else.”
The film ends with Schenk getting away in a freight elevator just as SWAT officers swarm the warehouse where he’d been keeping Banks’ father. “I love the way the movie ends,” said Minghella. “It is extremely unique to end the movie so abruptly and yet there’s something very satisfying about it. It leaves me really wanting more. And as [the person] who plays the part, I’m actually super curious to see what is going to happen next. It’s a nice feeling to be emotionally invested in the narrative in a genuine way.”
With rumors of a sequel swirling (including the possibility of a Jigsaw-related TV series), Bousman says that decision is ultimately up to fans. “People speak with their wallets so if they like and support it, I guarantee [the studio] will keep making them,” he said.
“Spiral” arrives exclusively in theaters this weekend after a year-long delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As movie chains reopen across the country, there have been promising signs of a box office comeback, which could benefit the attempt to revive a well-known franchise.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Minghella. “I can only speak for myself and say I really think we’re just scratching the surface of this character. So I’d love to keep going but it’s all dependent on people seeing this one and liking it.”
“In the history of ‘Saw’ we never started work on a sequel until after the movie came out,” said producer Mark Burg. “If this movie works, we’ll sit down on [the Monday after opening] like ‘All right, got any ideas for the next one?’”
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