The wait is finally over. A year after Spiral: From the Book of Saw was originally supposed to be released, the twisted tale is finally hitting theaters this Friday. Even though this is the ninth instalment of the franchise, Spiral has a very fresh look and story. One of the people responsible for this new look, or more specifically the noir themed wardrobe, is costume designer Laura Montgomery. To get director Darren Lynn Bousman’s desired look, Laura researched clothing styles from the 1940’s and 50’s and experimented a lot through sketches. She discusses this, revisioning the famous Jigsaw cloak, the input Chris Rock gave her on his character’s look and much more in the below exclusive interview.
How did you initially get involved with Spiral?
I had worked with the director Darren Bousman in 2012, designing his movie The Barrens, a thriller about a family who go camping in the New Jersey pine barrens and encounter the New Jersey Devil. I’m based in Toronto, Canada so when the decision was made to shoot Spiral in Toronto, I was thrilled to join the production and work with Darren again.
What did the preparation for this movie look like for you?
In my initial conversations with the director Darren Bousman, he discussed wanting the movie to look like a contemporary film noir. To prepare, I researched the film noir genre and clothing styles from the 1940’s and 50’s. The movie is set during a summer heat wave and Darren wanted the heat to be a visible element adding a feeling of tension and discomfort. To get into the right headspace, I kept returning to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and Orson Welles’ A Touch of Evil as visual references. Creating costume sketches is an important part of my design process. A pencil and, even more importantly, an eraser help me to work through concepts and home in on the right look.
Overall, how would you describe your stylistic approach to Spiral?
To achieve Darren’s vision of a contemporary film noir, my stylistic approach was to be very controlled with the colour palette. I used a lot of rich mid-tones such as navy, ochre, burnt orange, teal, and of course, black and grey. To create a 2021 version of a mid-century look, I chose contemporary clothing that had classic styling: tattersall shirts, foulard print ties, suspenders, three-piece suits. I was also very careful to avoid using the colour red. Blood is such an important element in the Saw movies and I wanted the moments when we see blood on-screen to have maximum impact. The only time that red appears in a costume is in the lining of Jigsaw’s hood.
Alex Kavanagh was the costume designer on Saw II-VII. Did she give you any advice before you started working on this film?
Yes! Alex has been a supportive friend and mentor throughout my career and we had many conversations before I started working on Spiral. Alex was very generous with her advice and expertise, she even lent me the Jigsaw cloak from Saw II for reference!
Because there has been so many Saw films before this one, was there an already established “look book” that you had to follow?
One thing that intrigued me about this film was that Darren Bousman and Chris Rock wanted to offer a fresh take on the franchise. Spiral exists in the world of the Saw films but Darren and Chris were very intentional about giving this film its own visual language. The cinematographer Jordan Oram’s work on this project is stunning. Many days I would arrive on set and have my breath taken away by his innovative lighting. I felt that I had the freedom to design original costumes that would work in this new, more stylized environment.
The one instance where I wanted to adhere to the Saw “look book” was with Jigsaw’s costume. Jigsaw’s black cloak with a red-lined hood is iconic. Keeping true to the colours and silhouette, I was excited to build an updated version of this sinister costume.
Chris Rock is a main character in Spiral and he is also an executive producer. How much creative input did he have on your work?
Chris Rock trusted me to follow through with my vision for the other characters, including Jigsaw, but he had a lot of helpful input on the design for his own character Detective Zeke Banks. In our first conversation, Chris told me that he wanted to look like a real cop. He said that he’s hosted the Oscars twice; people know what he looks like in a good suit. He wanted Zeke to be dressed in a inexpensive, ill-fitting suit appropriate for a working cop who makes $40K a year and gives half to his ex-wife.
The Jigsaw character obviously plays a central role in the series. Did you change his look at all from the previous films?
Jigsaw is such an important character in this movie and in the Saw franchise. As we were creating a new visual world, Spiral gave me the opportunity to update Jigsaw’s costume. It was important to stay true to the existing silhouette of a hooded coat, and keep the colour black with a red-lined hood. Aside from those parameters, all bets were off! I wanted the costume to be modern, edgy and menacing and reflect what I thought might be the interests of someone who builds torture traps. The design details are influenced by S&M, tactical gear and street fashion. I took a lot of inspiration from streetwear brands such as Boris Bidjan Saberi and Fear Of God. The lacing on the sleeves is inspired by Japanese rope bondage and the lacing down the back is designed to look like a human spine. I also incorporated tactical elements such as grommets and D-rings. The concept for the neck-piece that hides the bottom edge of the pig mask originated with the black bandanas worn by antifa protestors. A simple grey sweatshirt, cargo pants and chunky sneaker boots complete the look.
You also work on FX’s What We Do in the Shadows, which is very highly stylized. Do you have a favorite character to dress from that show? Why?
Designing the costumes for What We Do In The Shadows is a dream job because it’s not just one period, it’s all the periods! Amanda Neale, who collaborated with Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement for many years, and designed the costumes for the film and the first two seasons of the series, established the look with her unique New Zealand aesthetic. Building on that in season 3, especially during a pandemic, has been a huge creative challenge but lots of fun. The costume concept of the show is that the vampires have become stuck in the period in which they were human. This gives me the opportunity to dance through eras, cultures and classes and research hundreds of years of clothing history. My specialty is costume building and this show relies heavily on builds. I am lucky to have Carla Mingiardi, a genius cutter who is able to translate my ideas from sketch to stitch.
I have a lot of fun with Nadja since she is the only woman in the house but I think my favourite characters to design are the variety of day players and guest stars. It’s a delight to help bring to life every new silly, idiosyncratic character that our brilliant writers dream up.
Has there been a film in the past year that the costume design really stuck out to you?
Movie theatres in Toronto have been shuttered since early 2020 so I’ve been watching a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race from my couch. I love to watch TV at home but if possible, I try to watch movies on a big screen so that I can really appreciate all the details. One of the last movies I saw in theatres was Uncut Gems and I was very impressed by Miyako Bellizi’s costume design. She created authentic and unique characters and hit the perfect balance with costumes that you notice and remember but that don’t take the audience out of the story.
Is there a specific director or showrunner that you would really like to work with one day?
I think Luca Guadagnino’s work stands out for its beauty and attention to detail, both in the production and costume design.
Thanks to Laura Montgomery for taking the time for this interview. You can learn more about Laura here.