Spiral starts off with a flashback to a horrific gay-bashing hate crime, then fast-forwards 10 years. Here, we meet a happily married same-sex interracial couple, Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, AHS: 1984) and Aaron (Ari Cohen, IT: Chapter Two). The pair are driving on a lonely country road with their sullen 16-year-old daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte, V.C. Andrews’ Web of Dreams) in the backseat. When a bird divebombs their windshield, cracking it into a spiral design, we get our first hint that things are about to go south. The guys are hoping that the quieter, slower-paced lifestyle will be a refreshing change for all of them. But this is a horror movie, so you know that’s not gonna happen! Something sinister lies in wait behind the charming homes and smiling faces of their new neighbors.
Shortly after they settle into their country home by the lake, they are greeted by their nearest neighbors, Marshal (Locklyn Munro, Riverdale) and Tiffany (Chandra West, Z), and their teenage son, Tyler (Ty Wood, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina). The couples hit it off, and so do the kiddoes. The teens start a tentative romance, and everything seems to be going well. If only Aaron and Malik’s house wasn’t haunted. Malik is singled out for the scares, being the only one who sees the spirits and finds a disturbing trail of clues that lead directly to their neighbor’s front door.
The entire cast is excellent in their roles but Chapman is the standout, as the story follows Malik most closely. He’s the sensitive one that sees and hears things no one else does. (And, of course, no one believes him until it is too late.) Adding to the sense of helplessness and isolation, the story is set in 1995, before everyone had cellphones and social media.
While there have always been LGBTQ+ characters in horror films—whether as fey caricatures or disguised as misunderstood monsters—the genre didn’t really come into its own until fairly recently with slashers like Hellbent, Seed of Chucky, and the American Horror Story series. What’s more—queer horror, especially when the characters are male, is typically tinged with a hearty helping of comedy. But Spiral is one of the very few I have seen that is, for lack of a better phrase, played straight. It’s reminiscent of atmospheric, eerie cult-based horror films like Rosemary’s Baby and Midsommar.
Spiral—one of many movies named that—is a slow burn, and is filmed in a dark, almost dreary, understated manner. There are lots of dim rooms, whispered warnings, and spine-chilling visions. Director Kurtis David Harder does a nice job of tightening screws to maintain an ever-escalating tension throughout. There is also a message here, about how some want to kill anything that is “other,” but up until the very end, it’s not overly obvious. That’s not to say Spiral is a perfect 10; there are some lulls and a few plot points that don’t quite add up. Still, it’s a refreshing, more sober take on gay characters in horror, and for that, I give it kudos.
Spiral¸ both in name and inaction, is metaphorical of a cycle of hate that blemishes the world in a seemingly never-ending circle, but it doesn’t feel like a “message” – overall, it’s a solid horror flick simmering with mystery and tension that anyone can enjoy.