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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