★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Kurtis David Harder
Horror movies really are the ultimate glimpse in to the soul of man. Society’s reflection upon itself. Our most base thoughts, visions, hopes, dreams, and fears all laid bare for the universe to see. The historic period of time is largely irrelevant to the equation, because the result is always the same — man’s continued inhumanity to man.
In 2020’s Spiral, director Kurtis David Harder (What Keeps You Alive and Z) takes on the question of homosexuality, repression, and the family dynamic. In a clever, but simple maneuver, the entire world view of gay couple Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen), and their teen daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte), is neatly filtered through the year 1995. Funny looking plaid shirts with hoods, giant computer monitors, ridiculous looking leather jackets, and very beige interiors all come together to scream mid-1990s.
The rural (Illinois) community that Malik and Aaron have chosen is somewhat welcoming, but in a quizzical and distanced way. Some of the community appears to be curious and non-threatened by their gay neighbors, while others openly rile against Malik and Aaron’s gayness. The bucolic countryside is the perfect place for Aaron to focus on his work and Malik to delve in to his writing that’s somewhat focused around gay conversion therapy. The opening scenes of Spiral flashback to Malik and a former boyfriend immersed in a hillbilly reckoning complete with baseball bats, hate, and vile Americana.
As Malik contends with his new surroundings his inner demons are on full display. He may/may not be speaking with his dead ex-boyfriend, his house is graffitied with anti-gay sloganeering, and his relationship with Aaron begins to fray. While Malik contends with his issues, the community (read: CULT), and their new neighbors are up to some serious spooky happenings. Malik accidentally witnesses their freaky anti-gay-conversion-therapy-cult circle and the wheels of their pastoral community being to completely fall off the cart.
Malik is faced with literal and figurative spirals. He’s trapped in his own sexuality and he’s trapped in his chosen community. His cult-y neighbors have plans of their own, but these are not new plans, these are plans that reappear every ten years like clockwork. The community’s pleasant pastiche is really just fancy window dressing for far more sinister and diabolical intolerance for homosexuals and things that don’t fit nicely in to the repugnant American mindset.
Spiral is a wonderful look at the changing dynamics of sexual politics, acceptance, and the lengths that people will go through to make sure that things foreign are labeled profane. All three main characters turn in wonderful performances and director Kurtis David Harder does a superb job of threading a very tense and tight socio-political needle. While he does a wonderful job of exploring the difficulties faced by the protagonist, Malik, the cult is left a little bare and unexplored. We get a peek in to their repressive ways, but just a little peek.
This Shudder original is a fascinating to look at 1995 through the prism of 2020. Where once upon a time repression and violence was hidden and shunned, it’s now in the forefront of our collective consciousness. On the news, in print, coming out of your creepy uncle’s mouth, and part of our everyday lexicon. Which begs the question…is it scarier if it’s hidden away or right in front of your face?
Spiral is probably Rated R and available for streaming on Shudder.