15th Sep2020

‘Spiral’ Review (Shudder Original)

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Lochlyn Munro, Ari Cohen, Chandra West, Jennifer Laporte, David LeReaney | Written by Colin Minihan, John Poliquin | Directed by Kurtis David Harder

It’s 1995 and a same-sex couple move to a small town so they can enjoy a better quality of life and raise their 16 year-old daughter with the best social values. But nothing is as it seems in their picturesque neighbourhood. And when Malik sees the folks next door throwing a very strange party, something very shocking has got to give.

Billed by many as the gay equivalent of Get Out, I found Spiral to be more of an interesting look into the pressure of being minority – both sexually and racially – and the toll being “different” can have on mental health than THAT film. For that’s what, for the most part Spiral presents us with: a man, broken by a hate crime of the past, trying to move on but trapped by the confines not only of society but by himself. Malik has, for his entire life, pigeon-holed himself as different, built walls around himself emotionally and refuses to let many people in.

Which is why Spiral‘s build works so well. We, the audience, are unsure whether what we’re seeing is the product of Malik’s imagination – his fears of being in a new town where he’s not only the token black guy but also one half of the only same-sex couple, manifesting themselves as paranoia and hostility to his neighbours. Or… if everything that is going on is real and Malik and his family are in grave danger.

The film plays upon this, with every scene seemingly delivering ambiguity and doubt. We’re never really sure – even when its seems to be the case – that what we’re seeing, via Mailk’s experiences, is true or false. Add to that the apparent lapses in Malik’s memory through infrequent black outs and what’s up is down and what’s down is up. Eventually director Kurtis David Harder, along with screenwriters Colin Minihan and John Poliquin (Grave Encounters), reveal the truth in a chilling and brutal fashion as Spiral‘s secret’s are laid bare on the screen and we, like Malik, can do nothing to change the outcome of events – which have LITERALLY spiralled out of control. Well out of the control of Malik and his family… Their neighbours are well in control of the situation.

Playing out at times like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Malik’s office being the window to his neighbourhood and all the goings-on within it, Spiral is a convincingly bleak look at Americana – the facade of the utopia of small-town America, the falsities of the so-called “American Dream” and how there is no such thing being too damn paranoid when you don’t fit in. And the coda, set some ten years later, calls into question the very politics of modern-American where those that are different are frequently and unjustifiably vilified.

But none, absolutely NONE, of this would work without Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman who, as Malik, holds this film together with a performance that – if this were not some ‘small’ genre film – would be hailed as a masterpiece by those that scream for horror to be elevated. His transformation from strong, black, gay man and all the snark and sass that comes with that forceful character (Chapman’s droll delivery of some of the films dark comedy is phenomenal); to a broken man, feeling betrayed by his partner and let down by everyone else, driven mad by the situation he faces, is stellar and the very epitome of tour-de-force.

A Canadian film that has a LOT to say about the current state of America, Spiral recalls the best of the genre and can sit proudly among the likes of Rosemary’s Baby and Race With the Devil as an iconic example of the “evil cult” horror sub-genre.

**** 4/5

Spiral premieres on Shudder this coming Thursday, September 17th; in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

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