[Review] 'Spiral' is a Compelling, Building Psychological Horror Through Queer Lenses

Coming from a small town, I can confirm that the phrases “everybody knows everybody, who’s sleeping with whom, and everyone knows everyone else’s business” are pretty much fact. When said town leans a bit more conservative or traditional, anything that differs from the norm sticks out further and more prominently than before. Such is the case of Aaron (Ari Cohen) and Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), who have moved to a remote location with their daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte). When their new neighbors, including Marshal (Lochlyn Munro) and Tiffany (Chandra West) insist that the new additions to their community are truly different, Aaron feels welcome, while Malik feels suspicious. As Malik works on his new book and Aaron raises his teenage child, the family must deal with the stigma behind their dynamic, and question whether everything is as it seems in this quiet town.

It feels a bit reductive to call this film a “gay Get Out,” but there is a kernel of truth to this assessment. There exists an intersectionality to Spiral, as not only are Aaron and Malik a same-sex couple, but an interracial couple, which gives new weight and unease to Tiffany’s assertion that there aren’t “any of you in town,” and that’s just after she assumes that Malik is the gardener. It is in this sameness, this white-washed and straight-washed Anytown that writers Colin Minihan and John Poliquin have created that a good portion of the horror of Spiral comes from.

There’s also very little on-screen gore, and even then, the visible violence and brutality isn’t apparent from the get-go. While there is a flashback to a traumatic event of one characters’ past that gets heavy, it’s not gratuitous even with the added context. When the final moments feature a particularly stomach-churning incident, it plays out as a genuine shock, a payoff for those that may have expected a bit more carnage in a film that, yes, shares its title with the upcoming Saw spinoff.

At times I wondered if the conclusion of the film was going to be worth it, if the portrayal of a real-life horror story within the LGBTQ+ community was going to have a satisfying ending. I can say that while trauma is a big subject that Spiral breaches, it does so in a way that informs the narrative and shapes how certain characters act. It also serves as a catalyst for resilience and persistence that eventually results in breakthroughs and character development. It’s in this respect that this film avoids the “misery porn” moniker that plagues some LGBTQ-centric stories, even if it only just does so.

Spiral is streaming now via Shudder.