“Spiral” delivers a suspenseful and thought-provoking that taps into real horror, while giving a voice to a severely marginalized group of horror fans.
I firmly believe in the importance of representation in films, especially in the horror genre. Fans of horror are found everywhere — in every economic bracket, in every profession — knowing no bounds on age, race or sexual orientation. There is something special added to the movie watching experience when you can truly relate to a character or specific emotions played out before you. For some of us horror fans, it is few and far between where a film caters to our sensibilities… and fears.
Because of this, I was eager to dive into the new Shudder original, Spiral, a film co-written by John Poliquin and Colin Minihan and directed by Kurtis David Harder.
Spiral opens on a snowy night in December of 1983, in a deserted parking lot. Two young men making out in a car are interrupted by blinding lights followed by flashes of a violent, hate-fueled altercation — a nightmarish memory of Malik’s that continues to be elaborated on throughout the film.
Fast forward twelve years later to Malik (impeccably portrayed by Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), along with his partner Aaron (Ari Cohen) and his teenage daughter,Kayla (Jennifer Laporte), setting off for country living bliss away from the city. However, almost immediately, a sense of unease about their new homestead begins to creep its way into Malik’s worries. Comments like, “We don’t have any of you in town,” coming from the uncouth new neighbors — a jab at both Malik’s sexuality and perhaps his race — only exasperates Malik’s anxieties.
Left alone at home during the day to work, transcribing and ghost writing some rather hateful rhetoric, Malik begins to feel surrounded and overwhelmed by what terrifies him most.
When someone breaks into his home to spray paint a homophobic slur on their living room wall, things really begin to slip for him — rightfully so. Between the unfriendly neighbors, along with those that seem to be engaging in secret ritualistic practices, Malik starts to dig deeper into the history of his new hometown.
At first, I didn’t understand why Malik wasn’t sharing his concerns with Aaron, or why exactly Aaron was failing to pick up on Malik’s odd behavior — or the strangeness surrounding this new town and its inhabitants. But then I became painfully aware.
Malik suffers from PTSD after becoming a hate crime victim. And it seems he may have gone through a chemically-induced party boy phase to help cope with this pain and the difficulties of being a minority in this world. But after meeting and falling in love with Aaron, Malik found a light at the end of the tunnel and a desire to get his life together.
Aaron, on the other hand, has never been the target of ridicule. So he is ultimately somewhat naive to the potential dangers Malik is so acutely aware of.
By tapping into the complex dynamic between Malik and Aaron, while sinister neighbors seek to weaponize conflict and doubt, Spiral weaves real world and supernatural horrors in such a profound way.
Intriguing twists and turns culminate in an eye-opening conclusion, making Spiral a satisfying tale of modern terror.
It’s a compelling tale crafted in part by Colin Minihan, who recently wrote and directed the acclaimed 2018 film What Keeps You Alive, another phenomenal LGBTQ+ horror film starring Minhan’s talented wife, actress and composer Brittany Allen.
For Spiral, Minihan joins forces with fellow writer John Poliquin, while Kurtis David Harder helms the picture. All three have more than proved their skill, creating an insane number of music videos, short films and features. But this talented trio shares another notable connection via the successful Grave Encounters movies.
With Spiral, they take a seriously welcomed stab at social horror, resulting in a provocative and unique take on a tried and true trope that I both applauded and deeply appreciated.
Don’t miss the fascinating Spiral, currently streaming on Shudder.