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Friday, September 18, 2020

[Review] Shudder’s ‘Spiral’ Explores Social Horrors With All the Effectiveness of ‘Get Out’

Jordan Peele’s Get Out has proven itself to be an influential horror movie in a bit of a different way than influential horror movies of the past. While classics like Night of the Living Dead and John Carpenter’s Halloween spawned countless imitators, the films that have come in the wake of Get Out – and its box office and Academy Awards success – thus far haven’t been direct imitators at all. Rather, it would seem that Get Out has kicked open the doors and busted open the floodgates for fresh perspectives, experiences and representation in the horror genre, paving the way for new types of “social horror” movies that unfortunately just wouldn’t have ever been made without one big success story leading the way first.

The latest movie that no doubt has some Get Out influence to it is Kurtis David Harder‘s 1995-set Spiral, written by Colin Minihan and John Poliquin. Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman and Ari Cohen star as Malik and Aaron, a gay couple who move into a new neighborhood in search of a better life for themselves and their teenage daughter, Jennifer Laporte‘s Kayla. But just underneath the surface of the friendly suburban smiles lies a dark, twisted secret. And as Malik digs deeper into the homophobic reactions to his family’s presence, he finds himself trapped in a decades-spanning nightmare that he may not be able to get his family out of.

Spiral kicks off with a brief flashback sequence wherein a young Malik and his boyfriend are attacked while on a date at the drive-in, violently assaulted by homophobic men wielding baseball bats. It’s only a brief glimpse at a past trauma that’s further explored throughout the film, but it’s a horror that haunts every frame beyond it. Black man Malik, quite unlike white boyfriend Aaron, has gotten a taste of just how dangerous it can be to simply exist in America, and it creates an interesting dynamic between the duo when hateful terrors start rearing their ugly head once more. Aaron, at one point referred to as an “Uncle Tom for gay people” by Malik, has trouble even believing that his kind new neighbors could possibly be homophobes, while Malik’s experience in the neighborhood is quite different. He sees the stares and he knows what’s coming, and it often falls solely on Malik’s shoulders to deal with the brunt of it.

There’s a creeping dread that hangs over the entirety of Spiral, and what’s so terrifying about the film is that its horrors are sadly so very real. While the film begins in the same way countless horror movies do – young family moves into a new house, unaware that their happy lives are about to take a detour into nightmare territory – it’s immediately unique in its perspective, putting all viewers into the mindset of a gay man who’s painfully aware that he’s not safe simply because of his sexual orientation. Bowyer-Chapman delivers a heartbreaking performance as Malik, a man who so badly wants to believe the “live loud and proud” mantra he bestows upon his daughter; deep down, however, he knows just how dangerous that can be in a world that’s all-too-quick to demonize anyone who doesn’t fit a particular mold.

“In this town and in this country, it is not safe for people that stand out,” Malik finally breaks down and tells Kayla later in the movie, his devastating character arc being realized in the precise way we hoped it wouldn’t. “You need to forget everything that I said about loud and proud; do not draw attention to yourself. Don’t speak out, don’t speak up. It is not safe.”

Spiral is set in 1995 on the road to the following year’s presidential election, and it’s a backdrop that’s used for reasons beyond the nostalgic charm of being able to play with Polaroid cameras, VHS tapes and clunky, archaic computers. 1995 was the year President Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order stating the U.S. government could no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation; just three years earlier, a U.S. Army Colonel was discharged after coming out as lesbian. Conservative groups, naturally, spoke out against the decision, continuing to spread false fears about homosexuality, HIV/AIDS and the threat gay people pose to society. All of this turmoil is baked into the DNA of Spiral, a film that’s particularly relevant as we approach yet another election with heavy social implications. It may be set in 1995, but Spiral‘s social horrors are scarily potent in 2020. And what’s particularly powerful here is that there’s a surprising amount of ambition in regards to its scope, with the film laser focusing on one issue but ultimately reminding that our society’s demonization of “the other” isn’t limited to one group of people and certainly isn’t exclusive to any one period of time.

Audio from Pat Buchanan’s speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston plays over one scene in Spiral, as we watch Malik’s heart break. “This, my friends. This is radical feminism. The agenda that Clinton and Clinton would impose on America. Discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units, homosexual rights. But that’s not the kind of change America needs. It’s not the kind of change America wants, and it’s not the kind of change we can abide in a nation we still call God’s Country.”

Above all, Spiral is a damn good horror movie, gripping from start to finish and home to surprising turns and a devastating mythology all its own. And it’s not afraid to be as dark and emotionally upsetting as it needs to be to drive its point home, which it does in highly effective fashion. It all works so well in large part because of Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman’s powerful performance, one of the horror genre’s very best this year. There was a time when a character like Malik simply never would’ve been the leading focal point of a horror movie, and there was similarly a time when LGBT characters in movies were seldom played by LGBT actors. But Spiral reminds that the horror genre has found itself in a whole new era. Locked doors are now wide open. And the genre is only getting better thanks to films like this one.

I only wish theaters were safely open right now and Spiral was playing in all of them.

Spiral is now streaming exclusively on Shudder.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3632392/review-shudders-spiral-explores-social-horrors-effectiveness-get/

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