By Naomi Roper
Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and his partner Aaron (Ari Cohen) move to a nice quiet community with Aaron’s teen daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte). It’s the 1990’s and Aaron is thrilled to be away from the big city and getting to live a quiet life with the people he loves. But Malik is uneasy. Why does that older gentleman keep glowering at his family? When a break-in results in homophobic language being spray-painted on the wall Malik finds his life deteriorating into madness and paranoia. Are the friendly neighbours as kindly as they appear? Or does something much more sinister lurk behind those pearly white smiles?
I’ve always been a huge fan of horror. I’ve always found watching horror movies, particularly the slasher type movies with inventive deaths and disposable characters to be quite fun. It’s like going on a rollercoaster, a build-up of tension, the adrenaline rush of the jump scares and the full-body cringe of the gruesome deaths. But horror at its finest features characters you truly care about and induces a sense of clammy dread and horror that claws deep into your soul and haunts you long after the movie has finished playing. Of all the movies I saw at Frightfest nothing got under my skin quite as much as Spiral from director Kurtis David Harder and writers Colin Minihan (who wrote and directed the superb What Keeps You Alive) and John Poliquin. I emerged from it blinking and dazed into dazzling sunlight, unable to quite articulate what I’d just witnessed and practically shaking like a leaf. The obvious tagline for Spiral is Get Out meets Hereditary but with all the love to both films which are exceptional Spiral is deeper, more unsettling and far more pointed in its social commentary than Get Out and would give Ari Aster a run for his money in terms of inducing horrifying dread. Never has such terrible things happened to such nice characters.
The films strongest element is its characterisation. I wasn’t familiar with Chapman before watching Spiral but he easily gave the performance of the festival. Malik is funny, gentle, tenacious and loving and it is agonising watching him spiral (title alert) into confusion and fear unable to quite shake off the memories of an appalling tragedy which dogs his every step. His relationship with Aaron is beautifully real. Cohen gets the less showy role and yet invests what could have been a standard “dad” figure with warmth, sex appeal and innate kindness. The writers don’t hesitate to show the tiny cracks present in even the most perfect seeming of relationships with Aaron clearly wishing Malik would just get a goddamn job already and start bringing money into the household. Rounding out the trio Laporte breathes life into her character struggling with being the new girl in town and having a family which doesn’t quite fit the small town norm. Together they are a charming family that you want only the best things for. There is additionally strong support from Lochlyn Munro and Chandra West as their neighbours.
Supernatural elements provide the necessary jump scares and provide fodder for post-film discussions. The social commentary is even more pointed than it was in Get Out – watching Malik go from telling his daughter that living out and proud is the bravest thing you can do to a few scenes later telling her for her own safety not to be noticed, not to speak or stand out as it’s a dangerous time to be different was just devastating. That sequence is a pure gut-punch and had me in tears.
Beautifully acted and horrifyingly prescient Spiral hits you like a sledgehammer and leaves you reeling.
Spiral had its world premiere at Frightfest.