review by Diablo Joe
The year is 1995, and Malik and his partner Aaron, along with Aaron’s teen daughter Kayla, move into a new house in a small suburban community. Aaron relishes the change from the city and finds himself easily fitting in with the neighborhood. But Malik is less comfortable. He experiences a less warm welcome from the residents, and as his paranoia increases, so does the evidence that his fears may not be unfounded. They may just be an indication of something very sinister.
“Spiral” seeks to be both a horror thriller and a commentary on humankind’s enduring ability to find targets within our society. There is always terror in being perceived as an outsider. Being “them,” the person who people either denigrate, fear, or worse, both. The ones marginalized or shunned by society. It’s a paradigm as old as humankind. Immigrants, particular religions, people of color, gay persons–all of these and more have been subject to hatred, disdain, and exploitation that is sadly almost built into our existence. As both a gay and a man of color, Malik has ample experience in both. The “spiral” of the film’s title is the disintegration of his mental state as he increasingly feels he has nowhere to turn. Soon, even Aaron is no longer someone upon who he can rely.
The problems with “Spiral” are numerous, and a part of the film’s issues lie with Malik’s mental decline. It’s a colossal red-herring to something far more devious, and obviously so. Despite some earlier mentions of party days and a homophobic attack he experienced in his youth, never explained enough to warrant the degree of a break from reality that the film depicts. It’s too much, presented in too murky a fashion.
That muddle of details extends to almost every aspect of the film. Given all manner of tantalizing details, at the end of the film, we realize that nothing we’ve experienced has been fully explained. The secrets of the community are only hinted at; its machinations are left vague and unfulfilled. At times one wonders if the filmmakers have excised huge chunks from the film. Kayla spots neighborhood boy Tyler, whom she fancies, with another girl, but the scene’s purpose is left unexplored. Malik is a writer, supposedly ghosting a biography, and details of this project supposedly dovetail with the film's events. Again, this is one of many avenues the picture never examines to our satisfaction.
The makers of “Spiral” would like it to be a bold statement on prejudice and how we treat those we consider different. It desperately wants to be “Get Out” for the LGBTQ crowd but comes off as a poor imitation, if not a downright copy-cat. There’s even an “I would have voted for Obama a third time” speech between the couple and smarmy sycophant neighbor Marshal. And when we uncover the community's history, that, too, hews a little too thematically close to Peele’s modern classic.
All of this is too bad because “Spiral” could have made that statement had it been less derivative and had a tidier script. Overall, its performances are decent (though Jeffrey Bower-Chapman, as Malik, sometimes struggles with his character’s more extreme emotional scenes), and the film often succeeds in keeping us disoriented and on edge. It’s a film that sets out to deep but just sinks itself instead.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Spiral” 2 out of 5 imps
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