You know what’s terrifying? Homosexuality.
Okay, not actually being gay, but living as a gay person – living as an out LGBTQ human being is scary enough at the best of times, but Spiral takes it one step further, tosses us back to 1995, and capitalizes on the true horror that comes with engendering hatred for being the person you happen to be.
Out last year, and fresh to Shudder for Halloween this year, Spiral is a simple premise: what is scarier than being the other in a community based on the status quo? Following a gay couple Malik (Jeffery Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen), who move with their daughter Kayla away from the city and into the suburbs, Spiral tracks Malik’s apparent break from reality as he begins to suspect the rest of the small community of using his family for nefarious purposes.
Now, I’ve seen Bowyer-Chapman in a couple of things before this (the less said about his turn on Canda’s Drag Race, the better, honestly, though UnReal can stay), but Spiral is, without a doubt, the role that should bring him into the eyeline of any casting director. Malik is trying to manage the aftermath of a traumatic attack on him and a previous boyfriend, and the echoes of that are where most of the initial scares come from – it’s a killer performance from Bowyer-Chapman, a devastating believable portrait of a man consumed with guilt over what he should have done, and fear that nothing can assure him it won’t happen again. Mental illness in movies is hard to pull off, but this performance elevates Malik into a memorable, deeply vulnerable character, rich with reality and cracked around the edges.
But beyond that, Spiral finds a real horror in the slow, creeping realization that this idillyc new home the family has moved to is still infected with the same cruelty and hatred that Malik has been trying to escape his whole life. The bleak, vast cinematography gives this tiny town a sense of isolation that seems to tighten in on Malik as time draws on, cutting him off from the world around him, It’s a simple, powerful notion – what does being the other, whatever that means at a certain, actually look like when your community does more than just whisper behind your back? And can the dread of what that means ever really let you go? Spiral dips woozily between past and present, trauma and reality, and finds the spaces where the two overlap again.
Spiral is a brilliant entry into the queer horror canon, and I honestly and truly love it. Tense, beautifully-acted, intelligent, and handsomely made, it’s one of the best movies to hit streaming services this Halloween, and I can’t recommend it enough.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via The Upcoming)