Directed by Kurtis David Harder.
Starring Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Ari Cohen, Jennifer Laporte, Chandra West, Lochlyn Munro and Ty Wood.
A gay couple flees the city to move somewhere quieter, only to find that the polite facade of their new hometown is concealing a sinister secret.
In cinema, the suburbs are always something to be feared. Any moneyed, mostly white community is almost certainly an incubator for something malignant and dangerous. That proves to be true in Spiral, which is arriving on Shudder this week after playing at FrightFest last summer. It’s a slightly disappointing mystery tale that finds few chills and feels as if it lacks imagination, despite a potentially interesting central concept.
Canada’s Drag Race judge Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman and Ari Cohen are gay couple Malik and Aaron, moving from a big city to the suburbs for a quieter life, with Aaron’s teenage daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte) in tow. The neighbours are a swarm of WASPs, with the unnaturally sunny Tiffany (Chandra West) initially mistaking the biracial Malik for Aaron’s gardener. While Aaron enjoys bedding in to the new community, Malik sees its dark underbelly, coming home to find a homophobic slur daubed on the wall, which he promptly conceals before his partner returns.
Kurtis David Harder’s movie clings tightly to Bowyer-Chapman, which proves to be a wise choice given the strength of his performance. He initially seems to be a fairly one-note “loud and proud” caricature – a “New York party monster”, says Aaron – but reveals layers through his performance, nursing trauma from a homophobic attack decades earlier. He slots into the fairly standard horror role of the disbelieved partner, whose warnings to Aaron fall on deaf ears even as his mental state unravels and he’s gaslit into believing that, actually, he might be the problem.
Bizarrely, Spiral is set in 1995, despite the fact this sort of homophobia is every bit as present in rural America today as it was quarter of a century ago. It leaves the film lacking the immediate, urgent satirical punch of something like Get Out, which benefited from its potent depiction of the ways in which supposedly enlightened American society still carries out horrific violence of all stripes on all kinds of minority groups.
Often, in fact, Spiral is frustratingly surface level in its discussion of the central ideas, attempting to craft mystery around something which is never really in much doubt and delivering slabs of speeches that feel overly written and lacking in real vigour. Anyone who has ever watched a horror movie about the suburbs knows exactly who the villains are here. The movie also throws in an unnecessary supernatural element that blunts the strength of the social commentary with its lurid violence and laughable contrivances.
Harder’s film is, for the most part, a visually unremarkable movie that weaves an overwrought mystery narrative, muddying the potential impact of its core ideas. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have any merit. There’s enough in that central conceit to render the movie an interesting genre effort, albeit one that feels more like a missed opportunity than anything else.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.