Over the last few years, the name Kurtis David Harder has become synonymous with Arrow Video Frightfest, why? Well, the last three years have seen almost all the films that he has either produced or directed screen at the festival. It started in 2017 when his directorial debut, a science-fiction in the vein of Flatliners called In Control screened. Still/Born, a film he produced also screened that year. In 2018 he was back with What Keeps You Alive, another film for which he served as producer. Now he returns with another double whammy as Harpoon, which he produced, and Spiral, which he directed, are part of the 2019 line-up. We reviewed Harpoon at Fantasia and found it to be a rather nifty single situational thriller, now comes the turn of Spiral.
Set in the year 1995, Spiral joins an interracial same-sex couple, Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen) as they relocate with their teenage daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte). Initially, the neighbours seem welcoming enough, but this is 1995 and prejudice against same-sex couples is still very high. Soon Malik begins to suspect that the neighbours might not be quite as on board with him and Aaron as they seem. Then he witnesses some of the neighbourhood performing a strange ritual and Malik’s perfect life begins to unravel at an alarming rate.
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman was criminally under-utilised in television series UnReal (check it out on Amazon Prime Video if you’ve missed it), but here Harder thrusts him into the spotlight. Bowyer-Chapman is in almost every scene of the film and it’s great to see him get the chance to command the screen. His portrayal of Malik is completely natural, this is a character that you can one hundred percent invest in. Bowyer-Chapman instantly connects with the audience and you’re with Malik every step of his decline. There’s also a lot more going on with the character than you first think; for one, despite his outward ‘loud and proud’ persona, he’s actually still dealing with PTSD from a homophobic attack from his days as a teenager.
In terms of the plot, Spiral offers an intricate and complex story that, whilst dealing with the expected horror, also has a lot to say. Despite being set in the nineties, there are a lot of similarities that can be drawn to today’s social climate and its acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s important to point out that although the film does deal with the prejudices that people in a same-sex couple have to endure, Malik and Aaron themselves are not defined by their sexuality. Much the same as What Keeps You Alive, Malik and Aaron just happen to be the same sex. This could have just as easily been a tale about a heterosexual interracial couple. The overarching message wouldn’t be quite as strong, but Malik and Aaron are simply characters who happen to be gay, they aren’t defined by it.
There’s a lot of mystery within Spiral too, there’s something a little Hereditary to the execution. As with Hereditary, as Malik starts to look into those around him, the viewer is right there with him, eating up the clues and trying to figure the puzzle out for themselves. The tangled web is weaved slowly and deliberately and keeps you guessing right up to the bitter end.
The cinematography is dark, moody and wintry. The film is shot in such a way that the cold isolation of the location echoes the cold and isolation that Malik is experiencing. The bulk of the film unfolds in the new house, trapping Malik and the audience inside. This builds on the isolation and adds in an extra layer of claustrophobia; much like Malik, the audience also feels the walls closing in. Working in unison with the visuals is a haunting and evocative score, one that mirrors the action on-screen; it builds slowly, increasing in intensity as Malik begins his downward spiral.
Spiral is a film that is ever-evolving, and constantly turning in on itself, much like the shape it is named after. A beautiful score and clever cinematography perfectly compliment a captivating mystery, one that is held together by a fantastic lead performance.