FrightFest 2019: SPIRAL Review – Socio-Policital Terror Effectively Done
Starring Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Ari Cohen, Lochlyn Munroe
Written by Colin Minihan, John Poliquin
Directed by Kurtis David Harder
Spiral is the kind of film that makes you lean back and realize how little has changed and how much work still needs to be done. The story of a gay couple and their daughter as they move into a generic small town in the US, we follow these characters as the atmosphere begins straining their relationship, odd events challenging the norm.
Although set in the mid-’90s, the story feels as topical and relevant as anything we’re seeing in the news today. The arrival of a gay couple to this small town is seen as an event, as though partners Malik and Aaron are exotic animals that have a new display at the zoo. Malik is constantly being gaslit and Aaron’s refusal to acknowledge his partner’s concerns or fears is an echo of the frustrations plaguing much of today’s discourses. People of Color. The LGBTQ+ community. Jews. Palestinians. The disenfranchised, the attacked, the ignored, all screaming to be heard and, as a result, being deemed hysterical.
Much like Colin Minihan’s What Keeps You Alive, Spiral isn’t trying to show a queer couple as “perfect” or “flawless”. If anything, the focus is showing the humanity and cracks in the veneer. No one is perfect, no matter who or what they are, and the message the film offers is far more universal: be empathetic, listen to those you love, and make sure they feel comfortable with you.
Malik does what he can to keep Aaron’s idyllic fantasy in place. He paints over a homophobic slur painted on their wall before Aaron can come home. He is always there for their daughter, Kayla, feels safe and comfortable enough to talk about what’s going on. And as stranger and stranger events unfold, he takes on the burden of investigation.
For as grounded as the first two acts of the film are, Spiral is at its weakest when supernatural elements start cropping up. They are few and far between but they take away from the grounded greater story.
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman as Malik offers precisely the kind of performance that makes horror fans furious at the Academy’s lack of interest in genre offerings. He’s charming and charismatic and, as the story unfolds, his pain is palpable and the desperation to be heard and believed is heartbreaking. If Spiral is any indication, Bowyer-Chapman will undoubtedly be an award-winning star.
The team behind Spiral is a collection of some of independent horror’s brightest and most exciting talents. Co-writer Colin Minihan wrote the Grave Encounters films as well as directing the first and was also responsible for last year’s fantastic What Keeps You Alive. His writing partner, John Poliquin, directed Grave Encounters 2 and is the executive producer of Still/Born. Producer Brandon Christensen co-wrote and directed Z, which is currently terrifying audiences across the festival circuit. Director Kurtis David Harder has produced genre titles such as Knuckleball, Harpoon, and What Keeps You Alive. This is a team of creators who have worked together over several films, effectively creating a filmmakers commune that pumps out one solid title after another. Spiral is yet another fantastic addition to their collective filmography.
Spiral is a frightening and compelling addition to queer-powered horror. Come for the great team behind the cameras, stay for Bowyer-Chapman’s stunning performance.