James Jay Edwards reviews Spiral, a horror thriller film by director Kurtis David Harder, starring Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Ari Cohen, and Jennifer Laporte. (Shudder)
One of the movies that has been pushed into 2021 by COVID-19 is the Saw franchise flick Spiral, originally called Spiral: From the Book of Saw. But horror fans won’t have to wait that long to see a movie with that title. AMC’s Shudder is doing what AMC’s Shudder does with their original movie Spiral.
Set in the mid-nineties, Spiral revolves around a mixed-race, same-sex couple—Malik and Aaron (Stargate Universe’s Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman and It’s Ari Cohen, respectively)—who relocates from the big city to a small rural town to raise their 16-year-old daughter, Layla (Jennifer Laporte from Freaky Friday). Their initial interactions with the locals are, predictably, awkward at best and hostile at worst. After a while, though, they start to think that the animosity they’re feeling from their neighbors is not just simple homophobia. While digging through the town’s history, Malik realizes that there’s something deeper than hate crimes going on in the little burg.
(Spiral, theatrical release poster, Shudder)
Directed by Kurtis David Harder (Incontrol) from a screenplay by Colin Minihan (who, as half of The Vicious Brothers, created the Grave Encounters series) and John Poliquin (who did the “Tick Warning” segment for Chilling Visions: 5 States of Fear), Spiral is not your typical fish-out-of-water, torment-the-outsiders movie. Well, there’s some of that, but that only scratches the surface. There’s a supernatural bend to the home invasion chaos that keeps things mysterious.
Harder does a great job at milking every ounce of the suspense out of his movie. Spiral has plenty of those slow pan shots that move glacially across the room, finally (and mercifully) landing on some important image. The townspeople are of that “too nice” variety, smiles and hugs on the outside, all the while hiding something vile behind their eyes, something that the audience is sure is there. And just to keep the viewers on their toes, the movie changes up the impending threat a few times, building even more tension in the process.
And taking the brunt of all that tension is poor Malik. As he researches his new town, he grows more and more paranoid, and his tormentors take advantage of the situation. The most powerful scene in the film comes when Malik is at his wit’s end after being ridiculed and tortured, and he tells Layla to forget everything he’s ever told her about fighting for what’s right. “No loud and proud, don’t speak out, don’t speak up,” he explains, and the audience’s heart breaks for him. He’s a broken man, turning his back on everything he’s ever believed out of frustration. And he’s doing it in front of his daughter. Gut wrenching.
Spiral is as fresh as a modern horror movie can be. While the tropes and themes may be reused, the presentation is creative enough for it to not matter, and the twists and turns in the story make it that much more fun. And, for as much fun as the Saw movies are, they go one-trick pretty quickly. So, this Spiral might be a welcome change from that Spiral, at least for now.
Spiral is streaming now on Shudder.