It’s 1995, and same-sex couple Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen) leave the big city behind in favour of the subdued, quiet life in a small town. It’s the idyllic setting to raise their snarky, teenage daughter, Kayla (Jennifer Laporte) and a hopeful fresh start for their family. Their harmonious new beginnings doesn’t last long once Malik starts to suspect that something’s amiss with their new neighbours that threatens his own sanity to the core, and the foundations he’s carefully built with his partner and step-daughter.
Spiral is a breath-taking, intensely suspenseful thriller, with layers upon layers of depth when it comes to the characters and the slow-burning mystery that unfolds.
Directed by Kurtis David Harder (Producer of Harpoon and What Keeps You Alive); Spiral is a masterstroke in psychological horror, powerfully engaging the audience throughout its 90-minute run-time. Through its slow-burn technique, it tightly grips the viewer in and does not lessen until the credits roll. That said, once the film reaches the end, it will leave you reeling with so much to unpack. This is only the third movie under Kurtis David Harder’s directorial belt, having produced and written other projects, also. For Harder, Spiral comes across as an experienced, efficacious effort, carefully crafted, and undoubtedly professional. He is a new voice of the genre that’s one to watch out for, following his masterful work with this film.
Spiral previewed at the SoHome (SoHo) Horror digital festival as part of its pride edition during lockdown. With only the film’s opening moments teased, this was plenty to pique intrigue into wanting to find out more about the main characters and how the narrative was going to pan out. After viewing Spiral as a full piece, it certainly didn’t disappoint. It is highly recommended to enter this film spoiler-free. Do not read into the film in advance to experience its full throttle. Become absorbed into Malik’s plight as he unravels the incomprehensible mystery surrounding him.
The most rewarding element of a horror movie is when it features characters the audience can engage with and muster empathy for. Spiral is a film that makes it effortless to care for the characters and what they’re going through. This is down to the success of the script from co-writers, Colin Minihan (Grave Encounters), and John Poliquin (Shorts: Bitten and Selfie) and the performances from Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, especially, Ari Cohen, and Jennifer Laporte. The film also features an excellent supporting cast, namely, Lochlyn Munro, Chandra West and, Ty Wood.
What pulled me in following the preview at SoHome, was the naturalistic performances, evoking believability from the main characters. With prejudices aimed at same-sex parents, grounded in ignorance, it is refreshing to see a positive representation of a non-traditional family dynamic and a window into how the characters feel through being judged by others while trying to live their lives in peace. By setting the film in the mid- ‘90s, there’s the suggestion of a shift in attitudes surrounding homosexuality, but at the same time, there’s also a long way to go in the search for acceptance. Malik and Aaron are depicted as any other couple, career-driven, and navigating parenthood through the lens of stigma, they are portrayed in a down-to-earth light which is why it becomes so easy to root for them from the beginning. They stand strong despite all they’ve faced in getting where they aim to be.
Representation in horror is on the rise. In 2017, Get Out proved to be a trailblazer in mainstream horror cinema, featuring an African American protagonist at the helm, while making a stark, social commentary on societal prejudices and ignorance. Spiral is very much birthed from the same ethos. While, race and sexuality shouldn’t be a factor, and all opportunities should be equal regardless, it is criminal that there hasn’t been enough representation within the genre on a wider scale for people from all walks of life. It is important that people of colour have positive on-screen characters that they can identify with, in the same way, white people have had an abundance of horror heroes and heroines to admire for decades. Malik is both a person of colour and gay, and the hero of the piece, through Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman’s incredible portrayal of this well-rounded character, the audience will undoubtedly root for him as he goes to any lengths, he can to protect his family. His race and sexuality become secondary and do not define him in terms of his likability but at the same time, these elements are vitally important in who he is and what motivates him when faced with the movie’s main threat.
While Malik and Aaron appear to be a solid couple at the beginning, there is a sense of contrast and divide in certain aspects, as Aaron is the career-driven and the more headstrong of the two. There are times when Aaron dismisses Malik, unable to comprehend what he’s been through due to both his race and sexuality, creating a power struggle between them. Jennifer Laporte displays authenticity as the troubled teenaged girl, on the most part she has a genuine relationship with her fathers but still struggles with all the regular growing pains of teenage peer pressure. There’s a sense that she is constantly looking over her shoulder, aware of the judgement surrounding her home life and a notion of loneliness as she settles into this new environment, this is something that comes into play during the third act.
Without revealing too much, the threat itself is understated, allowing for a stronger impact. The film is not built on cheap jump scares, taking a far more sophisticated approach. There’s burgeoning tension slowly manifesting and goosebump-inducing, chilling imagery that will linger in the mind long after viewing the film.
Spiral is a nerve-shredding, paranoid horror/psychological thriller and one of the most original genre films to emerge in recent times. Deeply thought-provoking, and tension-fuelled, with a strong commentary relating to “the fear of the outsider” running throughout, Spiral is an intelligent, respectfully executed, expertly crafted, LGBTQ+ horror film that is simply unmissable.
Immerse yourselves in Spiral from the 17th September on AMC’s Shudder.