Jeffrey Bowyer Chapman in SPIRAL| ©2020 Shudder

Jeffrey Bowyer Chapman in SPIRAL| ©2020 Shudder

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Jeffrey Bowyer Chapman, Ari Cohen, Jennifer Leporte, Ty Wood, Lochlyn Munro, Chandra West
Writers: Colin Minihan & John Poliquin
Director: Kurtis David Harder
Distributor: Shudder
Release Date: September 17, 2020 (Shudder stream)

SPIRAL keeps us guessing for a good portion of its length as to whether its horror is sociological, psychological, or supernatural. We generally know the drill: new family moves to small town, the neighbors are a little odd, and weird stuff begins to happen.

It’s the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. We can tell from the tech: Polaroid cameras, square computer monitors, and not a cellphone in sight. Male couple Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen), along with Aaron’s sixteen-year-old daughter Kayla (Jennifer Leporte), are moving from big-city Chicago to rustic Rusty Creek.

The family moves into a house that is spacious and charming on the inside, and flat and ugly on the outside. (This is not a plot point, just an observation.) Aaron is sure the change will do them all good; Malik is supportive; Kayla is irked by being transplanted.

Malik, a freelance writer, is getting progressively more distressed by his current gig: he’s agreed to ghostwrite an autobiography for a man who appears to be extremely homophobic. Somebody in the neighborhood also has it in for the newcomers. Malik comes home to find an anti-gay slur painted in red on the wall.

Instead of telling Aaron about this, Malik paints over graffiti. Kayla starts spending time with local boy Tyler (Ty Wood), whose grandfather has a peculiar nocturnal encounter with Malik. The next morning, the old man is dead. Malik finds the timing of these two things suspicious; Aaron thinks Malik is being paranoid.

Director Kurtis David Harder and writers Colin Minihan & John Poliquin toggle back and forth on exactly what’s going on here. Malik starts losing time, and he’s got PTSD. Is his mind magnifying micro-aggressions to the point of horror? Or is there something genuinely wrong with the community?

SPIRAL movie poster | ©2020 Shudder

SPIRAL movie poster | ©2020 Shudder

Harder stages a couple of effective jump scares early on, and uses graphic gore sparingly but impactfully. He also handles the actors very well. Chapman, Cohen and Leporte all make us feel like we are more familiar with their characters than the running time would suggest. Chapman especially does well in handling some of Malik’s contradictions and fears.

There’s a big meta-level to SPIRAL. One of its messages could hardly be clearer, as it is articulated near the end. Then there are some things that we are left to parse. Are the filmmakers trying to make a statement about having the Rusty Creek all-white locals react to Malik and Aaron’s couple status, without ever noting that Malik is Black?

Then there’s the whole matter of whether LGBTQ people, and/or members of any other minority, should allow themselves to be banned from communities. There’s also genre representation, and how characters’ sexuality is used in horror films. SPIRAL’s heart seems to be pro- LGBTQ, but pondering its specifics – what it’s trying to say, what it actually says, and all the variables therein – is enough to scramble one’s neurons.

All this aside, SPIRAL is a decent, modestly-budget scary movie. We’ve seen its like before, but it is a respectable work.

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