There’s a growing trend in cinema circles where the horror genre is becoming an effective tool for progressive social commentary. With films like “Get Out,” “Red State,” “Us,” and “The Purge” leading the way, they help make room for small thrillers like “Spiral” to take a seat at the table. The film, now streaming on Shudder, delivers a decent mystery with an appropriate amount of creepiness to keep it engaging.
Same-sex couple Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen) move to a small town in search of a better environment to raise their 16-year-old daughter (Jennifer Laporte). They choose an idyllic, quiet small town that seems perfect, with welcoming neighbors and picturesque homes. It doesn’t take long before Malik starts to suspect something isn’t quite right and as he digs deeper, uncovers a potentially sinister secret about the family next door.
The film follows a standard thriller outline and formula, so of course nobody believes Malik when he tries to warn them of the dangers of the townsfolk. There’s a bit of misdirection before the big reveal (which in itself is not that shocking nor surprising), but unraveling of the clues and deciphering the mystery kept me interested and my mind constantly guessing what was really going on. It’s best not to try to make rational sense of the story because it isn’t really plausible, yet the conclusion is still satisfying even if the movie itself is mostly forgettable.
The performances from the cast are average, but the actors get the job done. Director Kurtis David Harder does a respectable job insuring the film’s tone is appropriately spooky, and benefits from sound effect tricks and mild jump scares. Setting the film in 1995 helps with the story too, since homosexuality plays a major role in the narrative. Back then it wasn’t so common to be out and gay, and there was much more societal unease, misunderstanding, and animosity directed towards homosexuals.
There’s a social and political message about homophobia and how civilization is trapped in a system that exploits fear and fosters contempt for anyone seen as “the other.” That’s what makes the themes in “Spiral” so timely — and horrifying.
By: Louisa Moore