Directed by Adam Green and Joel David Moore
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Outcasts and social misfits. I’ve always been attracted to them. Which is probably a good thing since they’ve been among the most often portrayed characters in contemporary horror films starting with the quintessential Psycho loner Norman Bates and continuing through the years to 2006’s creepily reclusive Roman (review here). But that’s certainly no surprise. What better way to make audiences uncomfortable and ill at ease than by forcing them to spend time with an awkward, insecure, and potentially dangerous young man like Mason (Moore), the protagonist in Spiral?
Not that Mason doesn’t have a few redeeming qualities. He’s an extremely talented artist who apparently has no problem finding beautiful women to pose for him. Their pictures grace his otherwise sterile apartment. He also has a loyal friend in Berkeley (Levi), a slimy womanizer with a soft spot for Mason who helps him maintain his telemarketing job at the insurance company they both work for. Berkeley is the person Mason calls in the middle of the night for reassurance when his asthma kicks in and he’s overcome with anxiety and fears that he’s done something wrong. In fact, as Spiral opens, it seems Mason has done something very, very wrong to his latest model, but we’re never made privy to exactly what that might be. We simply know that Mason is terrified to enter his bathroom for a while and removes all traces of her portraits from his residence.
Life goes on as usual for Mason after that episode. Aside from Berkeley, his co-workers shun him so he spends his days alone and filled with inner turmoil. Enter Amber (Tamblyn), a bubbly new employee who takes Mason under her wing after sharing lunch with him one afternoon and finding him oddly appealing, especially once she discovers his artistic abilities. She seems almost too good to be true and, frankly, got on my nerves a bit as she basically forces herself upon poor timid Mason. But he does begin to come out of shell and blossom as a result of her attention, and there is hope that maybe, just maybe, there’s a normal person inside him that just needed a little gentle prodding to make his way out. Soon, however, the old Mason — the volatile one who hears voices and is weirder than weird — returns with a vengeance. His paintings of Amber are truly masterly and striking; yet, there’s something eerily familiar about them. Berkeley, unfortunately, only sees the Mason he’s known for years and discounts all the warning signs while the audience squirms and hopes for the best for sweet, naïve Amber despite our mounting feelings of apprehension and dread.
While formulating this review, I’ve debated with myself whether or not to mention the ending of Spiral because doing so is sure to alienate some readers. But since every other review I’ve read brings it up, I decided to just go for it. Yes, it has what some would call a “twist,” but there’s a lot more to it than that, and anyone who scoffs at the technique is being shortsighted and depriving him or herself of one of the supreme joys to be derived from the cinematic experience. You can blame, as some do, M. Night or, as I do, Haute Tension for just about ruining the surprise ending technique by overusing or misusing it, respectively; but all the greats from O. Henry to Hitchcock have employed it with much success; and kudos are in order to Green and Moore for revitalizing it in such a smart and effective way in Spiral. And that is all I have to say about that other than recommending that you now forget everything you just read and judge the film on its own merits with no preconceived notions regarding the climax.
You may be wondering what the deal is with Spiral‘s double director situation. Surely Adam Green had enough experience under his belt after working on Hatchet (DVD review here) to not require any assistance on Spiral. Well, actually, things went down the other way around. Spiral was written by long-time buddies Jeremy Danial Boreing and Joel David Moore based on a seven-page short film Moore had written previously, and Moore decided to use it as an opportunity to direct his first feature. He approached Green with the idea of working together — Green taking the lead on-set since Moore would be on camera so much and him handling most of the post-production work — and the two collectively came up with the shooting schedule, character arc, etc. It also made sense to bring in another set of eyes and ears since it would be so easy for a character like Mason to veer off track from offbeat and disturbing to way too over-the-top. To say their collaboration was successful would be quite an understatement. Acting-wise Moore is a revelation and ably carries the film on his slim shoulders. I admit I wasn’t totally sold on the guy as a heavy-hitter since during Hatchet I kept flashing back to his comedic turn in Grandma’s Boy, but Spiral removed all doubt from my mind. There’s not a trace of frivolity to be found in Mason. Tamblyn and Levi are perfect foils for him to play off, and the remaining performances in the film are just as solid. For those of us who take pleasure in watching actors go through their paces, Spiral is a joy to behold on every level.
And speaking of joyous, it doesn’t get much better than the film’s jazz soundtrack. Truly, the music is a character in and of itself. To quote my compatriot Johnny Butane in his original Spiral review (click here to read his thoughts in full), “You can feel the urgency of it, the rawness that is evoked from incredibly talented musicians reacting in almost real time to the imagery they see on screen. Some of it is mellow and soothing, some of it is disorienting and raucous, but it all fits perfectly within the context of the movie.” I can’t think of a thing to add to that description. Like the soundtrack itself, it’s perfect. As is the film’s dreary Portland, Oregon setting. It sets the exactly right tone to convey Mason’s desolate mindset.
The extras on the disc round out the package nicely. First up is “Spinning Spiral,” a 7-1/2 minute making-of featurette. It’s one of those no-narrative presentations of random on-set scenes rather than actual formal interviews with the cast and crew. It doesn’t add much to the film itself but does show the fun side of the parties involved and provides a welcome break after all the tension generated from watching the events in Spiral play out. And in case you were wondering … Portland is damn cold in the wintertime! More elucidating are the three Starz “Cinefile” promos totaling about nine minutes. They contain your typical interview snippets and convey the personalities of the filmmakers. Green appears cool, calm, and collected while Moore, as you’d expect, is the more high energy, high maintenance, demonstrative one, giving them just the right balance and synergy to successfully pull off the project. Levi, too, offers some great comic relief. Also included is a quick look at the editing process Moore and Green went through with Cory Livingston. These guys work and play hard, and their dedication shines through in every aspect of the process.
But the real treasure to be had is the commentary. Normally I’m not a fan of commentaries with more than three or four people at the most since they tend to talk over each other or one person dominates the discussion, leaving the audience to wonder why the rest are even there, but that’s far from the case here. In sharp contrast with the film’s somber slow burn, it’s a lively free-flowing dialogue wherein Moore and Green make sure everyone gets a turn in the spotlight and do a fine job of keeping things on track. Green especially never gets too distracted and always manages to return to the point he wanted to make even when interrupted by someone else’s comments.
A lot of lip service is paid in the entertainment industry to “the collaborative process,” and everyone who’s ever mixed business with friendship knows how risky of a proposition that can be. Lucky for us, the parties involved with Spiral obviously understood both of those concepts quite well and knew how to avoid the typical pitfalls associated with them. Here’s hoping their alliance continues well into the future and, as Green suggested, we see at least another four or five films from them.
4 out of 5
3 out of 5
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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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