As 2020 goes down in infamy for being one of the most absurd years in recent history, Shudder just released a piece of 90’s period horror that reminds us that back then was a great time to lose one’s mind as well. Spiral deals with themes of xenophobia and otherness, all while remaining a really compelling horror/mystery.
Small Town, Small Minds
The film opens in the early 1980’s with a brutalized hate crime against someone for being gay, all from the perspective of Malik, who we pick up with again in 1995, when he and his partner Aaron (along with Aaron’s teenage daughter Kayla) are moving from Chicago to a small town.
There’s always been something idyllic about the allure of small towns in American culture. Cities are known for being busy, loud, and even stress-inducing.
So there’s a real appeal to moving out to the quiet of a small rural town. But horror films (and real life) have a great way of twisting that rose-colored image.
At first the locals seem harmless enough, although one does mistake Malik for Aaron’s gardener at first. Soon however, the townspeople’s good-willed condescension turns into something much more mysterious and creepy.
Malik begins to notice strange things, including homophobic slurs being vandalized on their house, a creepy neighbor who hangs about in yard in the middle of the night, and some strange ritual in another house. This leads him to start researching into the town itself and the town’s subtle homophobia is just the very tip of the iceberg of all of its strange secrets.
Losing Touch With Reality
For the longest time, we’re never really sure if Malik is really onto something or if he’s just losing his mind. Aaron and Kayla start to notice that he’s acting strangely and even they become concerned for his well-being.
And given the trauma he experienced in the opening scene flashback, we can understand why he may actually be having a breakdown. All of this comes to a tragic boiling point where Kayla’s birthday party goes terribly wrong because of Malik and the whole town (including Aaron) want nothing to do with him. There’s not much more we can say without giving away spoilers.
Horror is often a great genre to deal with social commentary because it’s one that can take things to the extreme. LGBTQ+ issues have been on the forefront in recent years, but fortunately it’s come quite a long way from when this film is sent in 1995.
Throughout its runtime there’s an overarching presence of subtle reinforcement of “family values”, much of which comes from background noise on the radio and TV in certain scenes. But to say that Spiral is just about homophobia is a bit of an understatement.
Ultimately it’s about otherness in general and how those who are perceived to be different most often become scapegoats. Spiral is a movie that has something to say, but does so in a clever, intellectual manner!
Spiral is streaming exclusively on Shudder!