While Kurtis David Harder’s Spiral borrows from what are now considered to be classic horror movies such as Get Out, Hereditary, and Ready Or Not, its message still resonates loudly during this time of division and uncertainty.
Set in American suburbia in 1995, Spiral follows gay couple Aaron (Ari Cohen), Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron’s 16-year-old daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte) as they settle into their new life in a quiet little town. Unsurprisingly, however, not all is quite what it seems, and it doesn’t take the audience too long to start picking up on what seems to be a terrible, sinister secret hiding underneath the apple pie lifestyle.
Once they’re moved in, Aaron, Malik and Kayla are warmly welcomed by their next-door neighbors with a quintessential welcome-to-the-neighborhood gift (this time, it’s a flowering plant). While they are overly gracious at first, the microaggressions start to pile up, leaving a somewhat bitter taste in the mouth, and Malik, who is implied to have experienced some sort of bigotry-related violence in his youth, begins to smell something rotten. As Malik’s concerns grow, the less Aaron believes him, and the more that he is isolated in his obsession. When Malik starts to unravel the mystery of a series of murders that happen in the town every ten years, all hell breaks loose.
Without being too gratuitous, Spiral is undoubtedly an allegory for America today. The film paints a vivid picture of what it’s like to be “different” – that is, everyone who falls outside the white, cisgendered norm. Those who sound the alarm to the dangers of such thinking are labeled “crazy” or “paranoid,” which Malik eventually experiences, leading him to doubt his own beliefs. But while the movie can be too on the nose in some parts, its message isn’t wrong. When Malik comes face to face with what he’s up against, he is powerless to stop the carnage. “Not one soul will question it because of who you are. People won’t care, Malik. They’ve already got their minds made up. They’re afraid of you, and when the tides change, there will be someone else to be afraid of. There always is. There always will be. It’s human nature, fear. We just exploit it.”
While there is no happy ending for Malik and his family, he is able to leave something behind for the next family who moves into their old home (this time, they’re a family of color), and with a chilling and timely message, one you’ve probably heard before: “They choose someone vulnerable and they vilify them. They do this so no one bats an eye…my hope is that you might finally be the one to break this cycle…just remember, hope is never silent.”
Despite its limited budget, Spiral is still able to carry the emotional weight of its message through remarkable performances and clever cinematography. The film’s strength lies in its ability to balance well-loved genre tropes and its determination to get its message across. It is unlikely to terrify horror fanatics, but the reality that it illustrates is terrifying and depressing enough. At least, with Spiral, you are left with an annoying, and perhaps even irrational, smidge of hope that maybe this time, the cycle will be broken.