Timely Social Horror Spiral (2020) Melds the Supernatural Forces with Trauma
First Wide Release: September 17, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Kurtis David Harder
Writer: Colin Minihan, John Poliquin
Runtime: 87 Minutes
Starring: Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Ari Cohen, Jennifer Laporte
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Married couple Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen) move to a small town with their daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte). All seems well as they meet their neighbors and get settled in until Malik gets an uneasy feeling about the place. As Malik starts to get suspicious of his neighbors, trauma from his past resurfaces and threatens to haunt him while he uncovers the truth about their new home. Kurtis David Harder’s third feature film, Spiral tells the story of how scary the reaction to difference can be.
Disorienting and shrouded in timeless social commentary, Spiral tells a much needed and uncomfortable story of horror.
I truly did not expect Spiral to unfurl the way it does and I am so glad to be unaware. Spiral is a dark, psychological horror film that watches the unraveling of Malik while he is simultaneously confronted by the trauma of his past with the unknown perils his family is facing in the present day. Originally, I wasn’t sold on the chosen year of 1995 but approved of the stylistic and narrative choice by the end. Some minor plot holes aside, the progression of the story and the dialogue flow naturally and make for an entertaining and provocative watch.
Bowyer-Chapman’s performance of Malik is simply stellar. Not only does Bowyer-Chapman enjoy a fantastic character arc, but he also gives his all to deliver an emotionally gripping and nuanced performance of a deeply traumatized, admittedly flawed, and loving person. The energy Bowyer-Chapman can convey with a single look is powerful; it's especially raw when he is met with the othering stares of the townspeople. I cannot wait to see what he does next. Ari Cohen and Lochlyn Munro should be commended for their performances as well. I wish Laporte had more to do with Kayla’s arc but ultimately Spiral hinges on Malik’s story and it may have messed with the pacing to add to her subplot.
True to its title, Spiral’s sleek cinematography is hauntingly beautiful and mesmerizing. I just want to take some time to re-live some of my favorite shots from Spiral. Basically, any flashback sequence to when Malik is younger is heartbreakingly brutal. There’s something about the car lights and the snow that just stab you with ice-cold daggers of pain. A single spinning shot focused on one of the potential antagonists effectively sinks the atmosphere of the sleepy, suburb into a darker and more sinister light. It evokes this feeling that Malik cannot trust anyone and that he has yet to figure out what is going on. I’m a huge fan of this destabilization because it further promotes the main themes behind Spiral.
Spiral is a smooth flowing chiller that benefits from its lowkey design and execution. Editing plays a huge role in bringing together the film naturally. Malik’s childhood trauma is expertly interwoven into the story without feeling clunky or out of place. The time lapses are also well-done exhibitions of editing. Characters jump from place to place, objects disappear, time is lost, it’s all freaky and done invisibly. One scene in jail, however, comes to mind as awkwardly put together. I had to rewind a few times to really understand it, but I think it is forgivable under the circumstances. All around, Spiral is sufficiently well-made, especially for its status as an indie flick.
A pulsating and hypnotic film, Spiral leans into the tragic with a supernatural angle. Harder executes a dark, somber tone with deliberate pacing and strong character choices. There’s no room in Spiral for excessive information, which makes for a lean and effective movie. The film is certainly sinister and creepy, I found myself more unnerved than scared, which I almost prefer more. It’s a hard feeling to evoke. Harder does a great job at creating a captivating story with sympathetic characters.
When Spiral gets to the truth behind its premise, it gets wickedly smart. I adore the ideas brought to the table here. While the film centers on the struggles of a same-sex couple, the narrative being told can be extended to include a larger group of people who endure othering. The ending nails this point pretty hard without being too heavy-handed. Spiral is a sharp critique of Everytown, USA; particularly of rural/suburban America which historically justify their actions against marginalized people to preserve their culture and “survive.” The name and concept get more important as the concept of cycles recurs in Spiral. Overall, it is just really well put together.
Spiral is a neat, offbeat chiller of a film. It subverts the expected often and delivers something genuinely unique that’s missing from the vast majority of mainstream supernatural horror. Between Bowyer-Chapman’s performance and Harder’s direction, Spiral is an indie gem that deserves your attention. Fans of more character-driven horror will enjoy as well as those looking for a timely message. Break the cycle of bad horror films you’re watching and check out Spiral on Shudder today.
Overall Score? 7/10