Starring: Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Ari Cohen, Jennifer Laporte, Chandra West, Lochlyn Munro
Director: Kurtis David Harder
Model-turned-actor Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman’s star has risen meteorically in recent months, fronting Canada’s Drag Race. Now, in an exclusive to on-demand horror streaming service Shudder, he has taken the lead role in the tentpole Queer horror of the year, Spiral. Which is not to be confused with the new Saw sequel of the same name, due next year.
Malik (Bowyer-Chapman) and his partner Aaron (Chapman) have just moved into a new town in rural Canada with the latter’s teenage daughter (Laporte). As they try to settle into their new community, Malik works from home and begins to spot strange things happening in the neighbourhood. People are watching the house from the sidewalk, neighbours are appearing in their garden at night and across the street, strange rituals are taking place in neighbours’ upstairs windows. As Malik’s grasp on reality becomes increasingly fragmented, Aaron tries to brush off his claims as mere fantasy. But for some reason, their house is the centre of everyone’s attention and something very strange is going on.
In terms of its craft, this is a fairly effective horror movie with oodles of suspense building straight from its opening minutes. The atmosphere is effectively eerie, with the beige town looking suitably blank beneath the grim, grey skies. Its deliberately mind-numbing normalcy leaves a blank canvas for its psychotic characters to saturate the film with their off-kilter psychosis hidden behind average faces and average lives.
Bowyer-Chapman lives up to his scream-queen casting, appearing increasingly more and more unhinged as the film progresses. The editing lends itself to his fragmented consciousness, with jump-cuts as startling to him as they are to us. We begin to distrust him as it becomes clear that he’s not fully aware of what’s happening around him, and the director plays on this feeling in the final act.
A little light on jump-scares, the film delights more in establishing an unsettling mood throughout, with Malik’s mental state heading down the same route as Toni Collette’s in Hereditary. But on this front, as in most other elements of this slight movie, it doesn’t go far enough. The actions of the neighbours never go far enough, the climax is brief and rushed, while the titular “spiral” is somewhat underused. There’s a satisfying structural denouement at the end, but there are revelations toward the end when you’ll wonder whether you’re missing something, or whether the plot should be making more sense than it does.
It feels like Spiral thinks it’s a cleverer film than it actually is, becoming unclear and vague in the process. It’s trying for symbolism, but succeeding only with uncertainty. However, if you want a scary little Queer horror (and it’s been a WHILE since we had one of these), then it’s definitely worth giving a go.
OUT NOW TO WATCH ON DEMAND ON SHUDDER.