Spiral, not to be confused with the Adam Green movie of the same name, is being billed by many as the gay version of Get Out. While that’s definitely an interesting comparison, it does a disservice to both movies in that they’re equally resonant nowadays, at times painfully so, and touch on similar themes but neither is necessarily like anything else in horror right now. Comparing them almost feels reductive. Spiral, for what it’s worth, touches a very different nerve by setting its story in the nineties to highlight how little things have changed in the intervening years.
The story kicks off in 1983, with a happy gay couple kissing in a car and a definite sense something very bad is about to happen to them. Indeed it does, but after the horrible scene has been set, we skip a decade into the future where ex club kid Malik (Unreal‘s Jeffrey Bowyer Chapman, excellent) is settling into small town suburban life with his partner, Aaron (Ari Cohen, who played Stanley’s Dad in IT) and Aaron’s teenage daughter from a previous relationship, Kayla (newcomer Jennifer Laporte).
Related: Frightfest 2017 Review: Incontrol
It’s clear these two have led very different lives, Malik is loud and proud while Aaron is more reserved, but they’re happy and co-parenting Kayla with little issue. Early on, one of the locals tells them nonchalantly “We don’t have any of you in town” and Malik balks but Aaron brushes it off, which suggests either Malik is paranoid or something has happened to make him distrustful of normies. As a hooded figure, dressed up like the killer in Urban Legend, looms outside their new home, it’s again suggested their family is in grave danger. Or is it all in Malik’s head?
Spiral comes to us courtesy of Kurtis David Harder, whose defiantly odd thriller Incontrol boasted a well-developed and fascinating central concept even if he didn’t necessarily stick the landing, from a script co-written by Colin Minihan, one of the most interesting voices in horror right now following a trio of great offerings with Extraterrestrial, It Stains The Sands Red and What Keeps You Alive, and Grave Encounters 2 director John Poliquin (also a producer on WKYA). Its horror bonafides aren’t in dispute but even with all of that considerable talent behind it, this is a remarkably effective, politically conscious film.
At first, the mystery seems fairly easy to decipher, from the barely-glimpsed figure in the furry jacket to the Black Hood himself, Lochlyn Munro, showing up to maybe run a cult, but Spiral retains its many secrets right up until the final act, when one moment of shocking violence, involving a very literal act of eating out, finally confirms what’s really going on. Even without these more outlandish elements, Spiral is scary purely because it showcases the rampant homophobia that existed in the supposedly progressive nineties, and that continues today.
One of the film’s most devastating moments sees the word “faggots” spray-painted on the family’s living room wall. Malik, who’s ghostwriting a book for a homophobic crank, is the one who has to paint over it, essentially wiping it from memory. Aaron chastises him for acting as though everybody is out to get him all the time but, of course, the sad thing is Malik isn’t paranoid at all. Clearly nothing ever changes in this town and that’s how they like it, but even without going into sacrificial lamb territory, the attitudes of the locals are horrifying.
This is such a modern concept that, similar to Get Out, shocks primarily because it still resonates so hugely. We empathize with Malik not just because clearly there is something sinister going on, but because his trauma feels earned. That’s not to say Aaron is painted as the villain, just that his experience has clearly been easier (at least thus far) than Malik’s. Bowyer-Chapman is just terrific here, imbuing Malik with vivacity and a zest for life before peeling back all those layers to show the raw hurt underneath.
His is a powerful, bone-shakingly committed performance that sells Spiral in its dodgier moments (the characterization of Malik and Aaron borders on cliche at times). If the world was fair, Bowyer-Chapman would be in the awards conversation this year, but regardless we, as horror fans, can appreciate him the same way we did Toni Collette in Hereditary. He’s peerless; Spiral belongs to him and it’s unlikely it’d work as well as it does without him. Comparisons to Get Out notwithstanding, this is one of the most powerful, socially conscious, and memorable horror movies of the year, scary precisely because it feels just as resonant, if not more so, than the nineties setting in which its story plays out.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Kurtis David Harder
Writer(s): Colin Minihan, John Poliquin
Stars: Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Ari Cohen, Jennifer Laporte, Lochlyn Munro
Release date: TBC
Studio/Production Company: Digital Interference Productions
Run Time: 90 minutes