‘Spiral’: An Underrated Horror Movie With Quality Queer Representation


The past couple of years have produced some tremendous queer horror offerings, and one such example is the 2020 horror picture Spiral.

Spiral is a severely underrated queer horror film that unfortunately bears the same name as a Saw spinoff released around the same time. Additionally, the film bowed as a Shudder original, which means it’s likely playing to a smaller audience than a feature distributed by the likes of Netflix or Hulu. That’s too bad because Spiral is a chilling meditation on the evils men do and how society shuns and lashes out against those we don’t understand. 

The film unfolds circa 1995 and follows Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen) as they relocate from the city to a small town with their teenage daughter in tow. Malik remains haunted by a gay bashing incident from his youth. He lives his life openly and proudly. But the violence he experienced has taken a lasting toll on his well-being. As the trio settles into their new domicile they experience smallminded bigotry, microaggressions, and acts of outright violence. 

Also Read: Mitch, ‘Paranorman’, and Finding Acceptance [The Lone Queer]

The film is likely set in the ‘90s because it was a less informed time when bigotry was less veiled. But the struggles Malik and Aaron face are still very relevant. Homophobia hasn’t gone away. It may be better on some level and less visible to a certain extent. But progress almost always comes at a price. While some people have become more aware of the way queer folk are marginalized and have made a conscious effort to be part of the solution, not everyone is happy about that. And progress seemingly emboldens the bigoted to stand in opposition to it. Spiral effectively speaks to how people fear what they don’t understand and opt to lash out, rather than trying to educate themselves and evolve.  

The film captures the terror inherent to being different and having no means to change that. One cannot alter their sexual orientation. All we can do is live authentically despite what anyone thinks. But it’s a terrifying proposition to know that being yourself could cost you your life. Screenwriters Colin Minihan and John Poliquin craft the narrative to both deliver ample thrills and chills and to provide a level of commentary on the evils of ignorance and society’s willingness to point the finger at anyone they see as different.  

See Also: Vanessa Valdeon, ‘Urban Legends: The Final Cut’, And Queer Characters In The Early Aughts [The Lone Queer]

Director Kurtis David Harder brings the script to life with a baseline of dread that grows to a shocking conclusion.  He slowly ratchets up the tension over time, making strategic use of a score by Avery Kentis to punctuate the film’s most chilling moments. Kentis utilizes clanging noises, drumbeats that sound like a pulsing heart, and musical stings that mimic the sound of a shriek to add to the unease. 

Harder takes the slow-burn approach, and that strategy pays dividends. The characters in Spiral are relatable and easy to invest in. These are people I enjoy spending time with. So, I’m more than willing to be patient while the groundwork is laid. And when things take a turn for the sinister, we have cause to care what happens. We’ve had time to grow attached to these characters. If they were immediately hurled into peril without giving the viewer the chance to get to know them, the film would almost certainly have less emotional depth.  

Harder isn’t overly reliant on jump scares, opting to let the horror of bigotry add to the tension as much as anything. However, the film still features a handful of startling encounters that get under my skin every time I revisit it. 

Also Read: Sarah Logan and Complicated Family Trauma in ‘The Taking Of Deborah Logan’ [The Lone Queer]

In addition to going light on jump scares, the film also largely eschews flashy effects and viscera. Harder instead uses frantic editing, creeping camerawork, jarring visuals, and a mounting sense of paranoia that builds throughout. That approach proves plenty effective and keeps the film grounded in the jarring nature of the evils men do. 

Aside from being a chilling and effective horror picture, Spiral also serves as a somewhat rare example of queer characters as the heroes of the piece. They aren’t tertiary players and they aren’t the villains here. Aaron and Malik are the most normal, well-adjusted characters in the film. We get to see them as three-dimensional humans who bravely persevere in the face of being othered by those around them.  

The film also effectively captures the terror inherent to being queer in a small town. I grew up in a rural locale where who you love could easily incite the wrath of another. It’s a terrifying reality, and the filmmakers behind Spiral do a compelling job of bringing those anxieties to life. 

All things considered, Spiral is chilling, effective, and brimming with social commentary. If you’re keen to check the film out as part of your pride month programming, you can catch Spiral on Shudder. 



Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter