FrightFest Review: SPIRAL

My favourite way to watch any movie is by knowing absolutely nothing about it except perhaps its title, its poster and maybe a brief read of the synopsis; and this is exactly how I went into SPIRAL.  Well, that and that it was playing at Frightfest, meaning that I expected to enjoy it.

So here is the basic story.  Set in 1995, a same-sex couple move to a new home with their sixteen year old daughter hoping to start fresh.  But the picturesque neighborhood they’ve moved to isn’t quite as perfect as it seems.  There’s some strange things going on next door that will lead to some shocking consequences.  Now I know that this is kind of vague but it is definitely best to not know anything more before watching SPIRAL.

SPIRAL is very much a ‘slow burn’ movie but it never feels too slow or boring.  Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give SPIRAL is how engrossing it is because I had about three hours sleep before watching it and I simply couldn’t take my eyes off of it.  It’s not an easy film to watch at times but this is very deliberate.  The opening scene shows a homophobic attack and though there aren’t any scenes for a while that are quite so obviously hard to watch, the message gets across in much smaller ways.

Lead character Malik is played by Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman (American Horror Story) and this feels like a career defining performance from him.. He is perfectly cast and despite excellent performances throughout (Ari Cohen as his partner and Jennifer Laporte as their daughter are both very good) he is still an obvious standout.  Showing a full range of emotions, you feel his characters fear and paranoia, partly from suffering with PTSD.  One scene where he emotionally tells his daughter not to be ‘loud and proud’ and not to be herself because the world is dangerous is both heartbreaking and sadly way too relatable in this day and age.

At the screening during Frightfest, someone described this movie as a cross between Hereditary and Get Out, and it is every bit as good as that sounds, as well as being a very apt and brief description.  It has that underlying dark atmosphere throughout that just unnerves you from very nearly the first minute.  You know something isn’t quite right with the town the family have moved into and you’ll be waiting on the edge of your seat to find out what.

Despite being set in the nineties, SPIRAL feels more current than ever.  Our society, sadly, hasn’t moved on a whole lot and the fears of the LGBTQ community and others are shown here.  Not only that but it also covers parts of mental health that have only started to be tackled recently.  This is a truly fantastic script from Colin Minihan and John Poliquin and even could lead to a possible sequel which would not only explain the story perfectly but also asks a whole set of new questions.

This is director Kurtis David Harder’s third feature film and has made me want to immediately check out his first two.  SPIRAL looks fantastic with the night scenes being my favourite when it comes to lighting and general look.

SPIRAL is an unsettling, hard-hitting and powerful movie.  It has one of the best performances you’ll see all year and belongs right alongside other modern horror classics.  Do not miss this one.

Alain Elliott
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