Spiral (2019)

Director: Kurtis David Harder
Writer: Colin Minihan, John Poliquin
Cast: Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Ari Cohen, Jennifer Laporte, Ty Wood, Lochlyn Munro, Chandra West
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 24.9.2020

Content Note: (critical treatment of) homomisia

Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), Aaron (Ari Cohen) and their daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte) just bought a house in a small town and would like to settle in a more rural life which they hope will be calmer than life in the city. Their neighbors like Marshal (Lochlyn Munro) and Tiffany (Chandra West) seem nice enough, albeit a little overexcited about having a gay couple in the neighborhood. Aaron takes to the community pretty well, while Malik starts to have his suspicions that all may not be quite as nice as it seems.

Spiral obviously uses the horror genre as an allegory about marginalized positions in society and the hatred the marginalized often encounter. Thus, it aims high and has a lot to say, but both the allegorical part as well as the horror part comes unglued in the second half, I’m afraid.

The film poster showing a spiral made of birds over a house drenched in red light, three hooded figures standing in front of it.

What Spiral captures very well is the insidious nature of – in this case – homomisia (that can be applied to racism, sexism, ableism etc just as much). Malik constantly questions himself at first – is it really discriminatory what’s happening or am I reading too much into things? And Aaron wants to believe in their new life so much, he pushes Malik to doubt his impressions. So much so that when irrefutable homomisia happens, Malik would rather keep it from Aaron, driving the wedge between them in even further.

Bowyer-Chapman’s performance here is fantastic and grounds the film, never letting us forget how deeply affective it is: discrimination isn’t just something we should abhor because it is morally wrong on an abstract level, it is very practically, immediately painful for those who experience it.

The film also makes the important point in the end, that discrimination doesn’t limit itself to gay people, and that the major necessity for the nefarious goings-on here is a marginalized position in society – and that can come in many forms.

Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) taking a polaroid picture of the neighbors through his window.

Unfortunately, once the film starts to explain, things fall apart a little. It would have been perfect if the film had shown that society needs homomisia to keep up heteronormativity (or racism to keep up whiteness etc etc etc) and the power that lies in heteronormativity. Instead of going that route, though, the plot becomes a little outlandish and slightly incomprehensible. At the same time, just as the pace ticks up a notch and things should become even tenser, I felt like the horror fell away entirely. In fact, things get a little boring.

Ultimately that leads to the film feeling much longer than it was and leaving behind an altogether mediocre impression – despite the fantastic first part and the political message that I appreciated a lot.

Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen) leaning in for a kiss.

Summarizing: doesn’t quite convince.

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