Review by Ally Russell
When same-sex couple Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen) move to a small suburban town with their 16-year-old daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte), they hope the new home will give them a chance to relax and resolve some underlying family drama. However, their dreams of a quiet life spiral downward as the family is plunged into a toxic and paranoia-inducing environment that is rife with homophobia and the occult.
We follow the story through Malik’s eyes—a character with whom we immediately empathize as flashbacks reveal that he was the victim of a hate crime. This crime has left Malik vulnerable and on a daily diet of medication, but it doesn’t define him. He is also the peacekeeper in his home, and instead of the tired evil step-parent trope, we’re treated to a warm stepfather-stepdaughter relationship between Malik and Kayla, whom he affectionately calls Booger. However, as the short winter days turn to long nights in a cold and unfamiliar landscape, Malik’s sanity is compromised and his sense of time warped.
Whenever a film presents sinister neighbors as villains, I immediately think of Rosemary’s Baby—a film that expertly explores the theme of living and being at home amongst people who make you uncomfortable. Spiral (directed by Kurtis David Harder) may not dissect the subject of strange neighbors with as much precision, but the same way that Rosemary’s Baby made viewers want to abandon urban apartment buildings, Spiral will make viewers question the safety of the suburbs.
For viewers looking for that Get Out (2017) ambiance, Spiral mostly delivers on that mood. In addition to the microaggressions that Black characters are often forced to silently endure, Malik has the added weight of tackling homophobia in his new community and in his home. This Get Out atmosphere is most prominently felt when we are confronted with Malik’s work as a ghost writer—a job that requires him to listen to a doctor espouse hateful views about gay conversion therapy and the importance of the “traditional family unit” via grainy VHS tapes. While these scenes effectively convey homophobia as a driver for the horror elements in the film, I do wonder if the LGBTQIAA community is exhausted with watching this kind of trauma unfold on screen.
The film is compelling and creepy, but it’s not perfect. Additional details about the significance of the occult symbols and ritual practices would have yielded a more complete story and left me with fewer questions. However, the film does an excellent job of adeptly highlighting one unequivocal fact: humans will always find something to fear.
Spiral is a dark and brooding horror film that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate some of its more subtle storytelling, but with each watch, viewers will unearth information that they may not have noticed before.
Spiral is available on Shudder.
About the writer: Ally Russell has a ghastly passion for horror writing. She has created podcasts episodes and written content for the Horror Writers Association’s Young Adult & Middle Grade blog, Scary Out There, and has written for Night Worms and reviewed horror films for Out of the Past and QuelleMovies.com. She also hosts the FlashFrights podcast, which can be found on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud. Ally holds an MFA in writing for children from Simmons University. When her childhood dreams of becoming a full-time witch didn’t work out, she settled for a career in publishing. She lives in Boston but hails from Pittsburgh—ground zero for the zombie apocalypse. She can be found on Instagram at @OneDarkAlly.
Raquel’s thoughts: Get Out meets Rosemary’s Baby, Spiral demonstrates the horrors of othering in a way that is both modern and classic.