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For almost a decade, a new SAW movie hit theaters just before Halloween every year. After a four-year break, the iconic horror franchise finally continues in 2021. A few things are different, however. The 2021 SAW movie is called SPIRAL, and it comes to theatres not in October, but in May. That’s just the first of many ways in which the filmmakers are switching it up with the latest SAW movie.
The new chapter is based on an idea by Chris Rock — yes, as in the Chris Rock. While he's best known as one of the world’s most beloved comedians, Rock is experimenting with horror movies by helping to revitalize the SAW franchise. While we don’t know much about this intriguing new film, we’ve put together a handy guide to everything we do know about it so far.
Once rumored to be called THE ORGAN DONOR — which was the working title of the movie during production — the final title of the 2021 SAW revival was eventually revealed to be SPIRAL, subtitled FROM THE BOOK OF SAW. The first trailer obliquely explains the reason for the title, as several examples of spirals that once decorated the Jigsaw puppet are found throughout Los Angeles. Is there a deeper meaning to the title? Probably, but we don't know any specifics just yet!
SPIRAL comes to theatres on May 14.
Much like the machinations of SAW villain Jigsaw, the first trailer for SPIRAL is deviously deceptive. It starts off looking like a pretty straightforward cop movie… and then those signature spirals begin to appear. The first SPIRAL trailer ends with a callback to the first SAW, as Chris Rock's character contemplates a hack saw left in the room that has become his prison. When that image hits the screen, there's no question about what we can expect to see in SPIRAL.
For those who didn't recognize the SAW callback in the trailer, let's look back at the series as a whole.
Released in 2004, the first SAW movie was directed by James Wan, who went on to become a major name in Hollywood with movies like THE CONJURING and AQUAMAN. The original SAW had a simple premise: Two men, seemingly unrelated, find themselves chained to the walls in a mysterious, dingy room. A nearby tape features a recording, which tells one of the men that he’ll have to kill the other — or his family will die.
The voice on the tape belongs to John, aka Jigsaw. He's stricken with terminal cancer and bent on taking revenge against the people who wronged him. The first film introduced a formula that would come to define the franchise: Characters are trapped in abandoned locations where they are forced to play games to escape torture devices and death.
Sequels made the puzzles and methods of torture more elaborate, but a couple of things were usually the same: The traps were designed so that the "players" could escape, but to do so requires the endurance of a great deal of physical pain. Jigsaw believes that this experience will teach his victims the value of human life, which he learned through his own near-death experiences.
The third act of each movie reveals a twist that usually explains how the characters are connected to one another, while a parallel story involving Jigsaw and his proteges plays out. Each movie revealed additional pieces of Jigsaw’s history. There were initially seven SAW movies, released between 2004 and 2010. An eighth film, titled JIGSAW, was released in 2017. Over the course of the complex story, it’s revealed that much of what occurs in this most recent movie is actually a prequel to the original SAW.
Not long ago, SAW fans were surprised — and delighted — to learn that a new installment in the franchise was in the works. Even more surprising? It is based on an idea by comedian Chris Rock, who is also an executive producer of the movie. According to Rock, he became involved when he ran into the head of Lionsgate (the studio behind SAW) at a friend’s wedding. They casually discussed the franchise.
While Rock says he was initially just poking fun at the franchise, a genuine idea emerged: "There are so many movies that I’ve watched and gone, 'Three jokes would have made that movie a lot better.' You know what I mean?" He also said that the new SAW will honor the horror of the series, which is known for being very bloody. "It’s still Saw…it’s bloody, it’s gory, but there’s like a sprinkling of humor here and there,” Rock explained. And although Rock has directed before, he didn’t direct the new SAW movie; that job went to Darren Lynn Bousman, who previously directed the second, third, and fourth installments in the franchise.
Bousman recently told Empire that “Chris came in with a thriller concept" for the movie. "He pitched this very elaborate, dense idea. We wanted it to feel much more like SEVEN. But it has so many ties to the mythos of SAW.”
And while SEVEN is hardly bloodless, that movie has a threatening, even punishing feel thanks to a generally bleak outlook. That approach might also inform SPIRAL, as Bousman went on to say that he's interested in moving beyond the bloody visions of his previous SAW sequels. "I was a younger person," he said of making previous SAW movies. "Gore and violence was the gimmick, I think. Gore and violence is no longer a gimmick – it just serves the story. This is much more about character, tension and fear."
Lionsgate hasn’t revealed very much about the film, but we do know that SPIRAL is most definitely not a reboot. It’s a continuation of the series, but it’s also not a direct sequel to the last film, JIGSAW. It wouldn’t be the first time a movie has ignored a previous sequel: TERMINATOR: DARK FATE ignored all the sequels that came after the first two movies, and 2017’s RINGS ignored THE RING and its sequel.
Chris Rock stars as a detective named Zeke whose latest case involves a series of particularly gruesome crimes. Max Minghella, known for roles in “The Handmaid’s Tale” and HORNS, plays his partner, a relatively new detective named William Schenk. "Riverdale" star Marisol Nichols plays their boss, Captain Angie Garza, and film icon Samuel L. Jackson plays Rock’s father.
While the Jigsaw killer is a focal point of most of the previous SAW movies, many of them explore the character in flashback, because (spoiler alert) he dies partway through the series. That said, one aspect of the SAW series is that Jigsaw recruited, trained and in some cases blackmailed apprentices and accomplices. One such character could certainly be working on a plan of their own in SPIRAL. How cool would it be if that's the truth behind Samuel L. Jackson's character?
Furthermore, one shot in the trailer (above) features an object that looks a lot like the Jigsaw puppet. Is that part of a flashback within SPIRAL, or does the object factor into the story in another way? No matter who is pulling the strings in SPIRAL, we're sure to learn more about the new SAW movie before it opens in May.
All images courtesy of Lionsgate.
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