There is something powerfully insidious about Kurtis David Harder’s new psychological horror film, Spiral. The film* which originally played FrightFest in the UK in 2019 received strong reviews from critics and audiences alike.
Written by Colin Minihan (It Stains the Sands Red) and John Poliquin (Grave Encounters 2), the film takes place in 1995 and centers on Aaron (Ari Cohen) and Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), a couple who leave the city behind for a small town in hopes of creating a better life for their daughter, Kayla (Jennifer Laporte).
From almost the first moment they arrive, however, something just isn’t right.
The neighbors are a little too awkwardly friendly and supportive. The town eccentrics stare just a bit too long. It is unsettling, and it plants a seed of dread in your stomach that carefully and methodically grows throughout the duration of the film.
Harder and cinematographer Bradley Stuckel (Still/Born) prove themselves time and again throughout Spiral with a meticulous attention to space and character proving that you don’t need walls or bars to make a scene seem claustrophobic. In fact there are times in the film when even the horizon seems to crash down on the characters, and when they move that focus inside, it can be almost unbearable.
The director also seems to wring every last ounce of believable emotion from the central family in this tale.
Bowyer-Chapman in particular gives a stunning performance as Malik. The actor was previously criminally underused in American Horror Story: Apocalypse as Andre Stevens, son of voodoo queen talk show host Dinah Stevens (Adina Porter).
His carefully crafted backstory proves a solid foundation for why he is willing to fight for his family, but it’s the actor’s performance that draws you to the edge of your seat simultaneously rooting for him and covering your eyes as he’s forced to make impossible decisions while everyone, including himself, doubts his own sanity.
Lochlyn Munro (Riverdale) is also rather brilliant as one of the family’s neighbors serving as the equivalent of Bradley Whitford in Get Out. He says all the “right things” which somehow never feel quite right and he sells it completely throughout the film.
What stands out most, and is truly terrifying about this film, is the statement it makes about marginalized communities and the way they’re viewed by those in the majority. The film also explores the long-reaching effects of PTSD, not only on the person suffering from it but also the people around them.
In other hands, it might have become the equivalent of a PSA, but instead of a spotlight, Harder, Minihan, and Poliquin, chose a laser-pointer.
This precision adds to the overall tension of the film without detracting in the least from story and character, and makes the final shocking moments of Spiral a stomach-churning nightmare.
*This review of the film was written in September 2019.
Spiral is now streaming on Shudder.