Spiral follows a couple and their daughter who move into a seemingly quiet neighborhood that seems to hide a dark secret. When homophobic signals, both literal and subtle, begin to pop up, Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) tries to convince his husband Aaron (Ari Cohen) that something sinister is at work and they need to leave before it's too late.
Spiral is a powerful film with a message that gives a face to the prejudices our country tries to hide. While we do not all suffer from the same blatant prejudices, it's often just as devastating to ignore it. This film tackles the latent prejudice issues by manifesting them through the form of an ominous, obscure cult. Our lead protagonist, Malik, must conclude whether these cult-like behaviors he is witnessing are a real danger, something he is imagining, or pulling from biases based on his own all-too-real trauma.
The film does inevitably follow similar trends and tropes from movies like Rear Window and Disturbia, as well as countless haunts that use trauma and mental instability as a means to keep the viewer guessing and other characters dismissing the protagonist's claims. That particular trope gets old quicker and quicker as a film drags it out, yet there's something personal to grasp onto in Spiral's instance because of the differing world views between Malik and Aaron. Malik's past trauma from homophobic assailants makes him less trusting, whereas Aaron's less eventful youth (likely through his dismissal of his homosexual nature implied through him being married before, at least as I understood it) makes him more lenient towards semi-ambiguous prejudice and more dismissive of Malik's concerns. It makes for the most empathy-driven arguments that are otherwise familiar in similar films.
The acting is top-notch, led by Bowyer-Chapman. There is legitimate pain and fear in several scenes that feels transcendent from the horror-driven subject matter. Similar to Antebellum, the plot isn't necessarily real, but the prejudice it implies is frightfully real. We are exposed to the decisions that homosexual couples must make on a daily basis, none more sobering than the simple fact that Malik and Aaron must on a regular basis/interaction decipher if someone holds their relationship against them or not. And while not everyone does, having to try to draw that conclusion constantly is exhausting and unsettling. We feel this in several scenes, even some that are not openly tense.
The cult (or is it?) plot itself carries atmosphere throughout, but unfortunately the "solve the mystery" narrative struggles to differentiate itself from the masses. Many of the scenes feel generic and reprinted, despite the powerful underlying symbolism.
Depending on your horror needs, the final act may or may not give you enough for enduring the gradual build. While the story is enthralling given the subject matter, and thereby keeps your attention, the horror fan in you may find that there needed to be a bit more revealed in the final moments. One particular antagonist's monologue could have used a rewrite or two, in order to more cleverly nuance the messaging that is already very clear to any viewer paying attention. Sometimes being too heavy-handed cheapens it.
The questions we are left with don't outweigh the answers we get. I would've liked more mystery torn away, but it also feels intentional to leave even more tangible fear on your mind. The closing scene feels necessary to drive the message with even more weight and selflessness, that we are responsible for not only our own prejudices, but to be vigilant of the prejudices endured by others.
Throughout my horror viewing years, I have always carried with me a quote from the film The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which says, "People say that God is dead, but how can they think that if I show them the Devil?" The faith element of that statement aside, there is a powerful message in that quote...While I had seen countless horror movies before this quote struck my ears, I have generally seen horror movies through this lens since. Horror movies often show us the evil of the world and the hate in humanity, but it is through these stories we see the hopeless fate in hate and evil, and sometimes we also see the hopeful counterbalance of love and selflessness. Spiral shows us the hate and evil of humanity through the metaphor of the cult, and how it can hide in the cracks of suburbia...that millions suffer through prejudices that are both subtly and blatantly thrust upon them...and while this film tends to focus on the hopelessness, on the Devil of humanity, it is up to us to take the lesson and prove to evil that love will conquer if we choose to acknowledge where hate hides and fight it. Humanity throughout its existence has shown through terrible events of hate that love will flourish in response. Horror films can provide an opportunity to show hate through a piece of "fiction" that drives a message of using love to conquer it. We just have to be willing to hear the message, and act on it.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 8/10
Horror Quality: 6/10
Film Quality: 7/10