Fear Is Everywhere...
Following in the path of anxiety-inducing, paranoia-filled movies like 1968's Rosemary's Baby and 1975's Stepford Wives (both having social commentaries of their own) and proudly riding the wave of fresh perspectives that Get Out has opened within the Horror genre, Spiral is the latest offering from Shudder; a rather progressive queer horror mystery.
Staring Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman (American Horror Story) and Ari Cohen (IT ) as biracial gay couple Malik and Aaron, who along with their daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte) seek a better and tranquil life away from the city by moving to a new area. But, much like many 'normal' looking friendly suburbs within the horror genre, behind the pearly whites of a feign smile, within the surroundings of an enclosed forest and deep into the putrid soil below lies diabolically dark and twisted secrets.
The film opens with a foreboding flashback scene, which we later discover is Malik's memory of a violent homophobic attack. A plot point that seeps into the very core of the overarching storyline, and allows the audience to understand Malik's mind frame and thought process as he digs deeper into the suburbs oddities and the apparent homophobic reactions from his neighbours. We are led to believe these things are more evident to Malik, which brings to the foreground the difference between Malik and Aarons experiences, from skin colour to past trauma.
Are these events paranoid delusions brought on by his history mixed in with his daily medication intake? The suspense becomes all too real, when Malik (in Hitchcockian Rear Window style) spies through his polaroid camera and notices something pointed through his neighbours window.
Written by Colin Minihan (What Keep You Alive) and John Poliquin (Grave Encounters 2) and Directed by Kurtis David Harder (Incontrol), Spiral is set in the mid 90's. A very pointed time to set our protagonists, a time period where a gay man was shot to death by his friend because of a revealed secret crush, Bill Clinton signs an Executive Order which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation, much to the dismay of many Conservative groups and AIDS deaths in the U.S. reach an all-time high, igniting false fears on how gay people posed a threat to society. All these elements work to encase our characters into a history that adds to the understanding of Malik's paranoia and anxiety. Sometimes, 'they' really are out to get you. The 'other' varying from movie to movie, but in this instance, there is a terrifying meaning behind the uncomfortable stares.
The film is a rather slow burn, but as the suspenseful mystery unravels, things begin to escalate and once the story comes full circle, the ending can be quite shocking. But I found the very final reel to be quite underwhelming, and I questioned certain aspects of the film and was perplexed by some story threads that didn't seem to go anywhere, more notably the 'supernatural' elements. Whilst the penultimate scene is horrific and grotesque, a further explanation was needed. This may have been the 'money shot' for all the built up suspense but I personally would have wanted to explore a little more and would have liked the horror to be pushed slightly further.
Like any film, this won't be for everyone, the film consists of some hard hitting social themes and I've already seen reviews, opinions and comments about the film being too 'woke'. I believe these comments come from people that will call any film, without straight, white, cis people as the protagonists, 'woke', and don't seem to understand this type of film is not necessarily new. There have been many movies before it that present similar plot points and themes, commenting on society and history, but this movie simply has a different perspective, a new angle that includes other representation. And I'm truly perplexed why certain members of the horror community believe that representing all parts of the society we live in as a bad thing. Despite it being set in 1995, the fact that this story can be scarily relevant today is the reason the filmmakers needed to write this film.
Overall, Spiral is a good mystery horror. I'm an advocate for slow burn horror in regards to character development and suspense, but I didn't find the ending to be as much of a gut-punch as it was intended. But I am pretty desensitised, which is the reason I needed more of the horrors that were touched on; but on the other hand, many other horror films have ended with much much less.
SPIRAL is OUT NOW on Shudder.