• Through the Trees

Review: Spiral

Chilling and clever queer horror starring Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman

Written by Katherine McLaughlin

The pursuit of happiness as laid out in the American Declaration of Independence is a fundamental right to live your life in a way that makes you happy as long as that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. So, what if you’re lifestyle is viewed as a threat to the traditional family unit? Or your sexuality and right to marriage is debated in the supreme court? Or you’re used as a prop to win elections in a growing tide of fear and hate? This chilling LGBTQ+ psychological horror directed by Kurtis David Harder and written by Colin Minihan and John Poliquin explores the impact of dehumanisation and trauma on a same-sex couple who move to the suburbs from the city to find out it’s not such a beautiful day in the neighbourhood.

The creators behind this smart flick tap into relevant issues by looking to the past and presenting a delve into history from a refreshing perspective. The film is set in 1995 but begins in 1983 with a flashback to a horrific crime carried out on a young gay man by young white men. It alternates between decades, but most of the drama takes place in the 90s where we meet Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), his partner Aaron (Ari Cohen) and their daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte) who are travelling to their new home. Moving day comes with hopes and dreams that are quickly thwarted. Malik begins to view the locals with suspicion, and slips deeper into a paranoid state, his mind unravelling with each encounter.

There’s fantastic attention to detail in the period setting; not only are the fashion and apparent liberal values spot on, the filmmakers make excellent use of technological innovation and the dawning of the internet boom as a way to build on bigger themes tied to American values and politics. Through Malik’s perspective the viewer gets a glimpse into a life where to be out and proud comes with exhausting microaggressions and the risk of violence. Bowyer-Chapman turns in a committed and memorable performance as he depicts Malik’s physical and mental deterioration, and the use of nifty camerawork effectively places the viewer in his agitated condition.

J-horror tropes are employed for startling jump scares and the film ekes dread and suspense out of every social situation; a daily jog turns disorienting and a drink with the neighbours is a cryptic chore. Some of the drama doesn’t entirely yield credible intimacy and it would have been nice to get to know the characters a little more, yet there’s so many clever ideas at play with allusions to cults and shallow niceties, that when it all comes together the ending really packs a punch. As things get progressively worse for the family, the film draws a depressing yet hopeful conclusion on the importance of cataloguing information and sharing it for the greater good and as a way to overcome a cycle of hate.

Available on AMC's horror streaming service Shudder in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand from September 17th.


Director: Kurtis David Harder

Screenwriters: Colin Minihan, John Poliquin

Cast: Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Ari Cohen, Jennifer Laporte

Distributor: Shudder

Running Time: 87 minutes

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