★★★★ out of ★★★★★
This ain’t your granddaddy’s bachelor party.
Directed by Joe Clarke.
Woohoo! A bachelor party movie! Beers? Check. Strippers? Check. Sanity-crushing, time-distorting, inter-dimensional nightmare? Check!
That’s apparently how they roll in Iowa. In an interview with his hometown newspaper about filming Spiral, writer/director Joe Clarke said he wanted to make a “180 degree turn” from his previous movie, the family oriented talking dog holiday film, Up on the Wooftop (2015). And, unless Santa was doing copious amounts of drugs in that movie, I’d say he succeeded.
Spiral starts off with six buddies getting back together after a number of years to reconnect and celebrate the impending nuptials of one of their own. The bachelor party is being thrown by Ryan [Michael Vlamis; CW Network’s new Roswell, New Mexico series] who’s just sold his company and has lots of money to burn. The result is nearly 24 hours of yachts, bikinis, drinking, and sunshine climaxing with a trip to a local gentlemen’s club that’s been completely rented out for the private use of our six party animals. In other words, utter debauchery.
Fox [Shara McGlinn; TV’s Chicago Fire (2015)], the club’s sultry proprietress, keeps the party going. So much so that she and a few of the club’s dancers accompany the guys back to their party house to keep the good times rollin’. At least, until something happens to Corey [Tyler Thirnbeck; The Wedge (2012)], the groom-to-be. That’s when things take a turn for the weird.
Don’t let the “thriller” tag on Spiral‘s IMDB page fool you. This is not a fast-paced movie. It’s slow and deliberate like a fire burning inside the walls of your house. It might not be flashy and full of explosions, but it’s just as effective. “Psychedelic brain cramp thriller” might a better category. Or, possibly even “cosmic horror”. You might need a little patience with Mitch [Mitch Westphal; TV’s Or Die Trying (2017)] getting lost in the cornfield. It seems like he wanders around in there for a while. But, if you enjoy your weirdness with a pinch of Lovecraft and a healthy splash of David Lynch, the pace of the movie will suit you just fine.
Here’s another tip: it’s okay to hate the main character. To be perfectly honest, when Ellis [Anthony Stratton; Nesting Grounds (2014) short film] started coming out with judgemental comments at inappropriate times I originally thought maybe the writing was a bit off (sorry, Joe!). However, once the other characters started calling him on it, I realized the following: the writing was fine, Stratton was doing a great job playing the character, and Ellis was kind of an ass. Spiral touches on themes of judgement; how we perceive other people and how other people’s perceptions affect our own self-image. Having a judgey main character fits right in with that, but it doesn’t make him likable.
Acting-wise, everyone did a good job, but a few of them stuck out. Michael Vlamis was exceptional as “Mr. Moneybags” Ryan. Hays McEachern did a great job as Will, the target of most of Ellis’ judgemental comments. It’s not easy to look both guilty and incredibly annoyed all at the same time. And I failed at figuring out the actor’s name, but the one-legged man was great!
Spiral is definitely a “concept movie”. Not a special effects bonanza. The film banks on its other-worldly ideas about the nature of reality and enjoys messing with the viewer’s experience through the creative use of editing, lighting, and color. If you’re looking for lots and lots of special effects in a surreal movie, go watch Baskin (2015) again. That’s not to say there aren’t any special effects in Spiral. However, Clarke seems to have understood that they weren’t one of the movie’s strengths. So they’re in there, but the movie has the good sense not to rely on them for too much support.
Ultimately, Spiral is like a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a Jackson Pollock painting. It comes together slowly and, when it’s done, you’re still left with a beautiful sense of WTF?
Spiral will be available for streaming on Amazon and iTunes October 16th.