Horror movies are not obligated to be realistic. Touching on enough moments to make things slightly relatable is enough. They are more about what would be awful than what actually is. This is rarely a problem since horror thrives in the extremes. Spiral is a grounded horror movie with a message. Malik (Darius Willis) and his partner Aaron (Ari Cohen) move to a small town with Aaron’s daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte). At first, they are greeted warmly by their new neighbors. Before long, it becomes clear is not everything that it seems.
The first thing clear about the film is its commitment to realism. Kayla is a stereotypical teenager. She rolls her eyes at every moment and can only put up with so much from her parents. What Spiral does so well is the writing never makes her too cool for school or angsty. It is an easy caricature seen in many movies, but rarely works when played seriously.
The same can be said for an incident in Malik’s life. He lives with the trauma and seemingly anything can trigger it. This adds a tension to every moment in his life. The movie never melodramatically overplays its hand. The event in and of itself is enough to illicit emotion from the audience. This ends up making Malik Spiral’s most compelling character.
This is also the driving force behind the mystery in the story. Spiral soon becomes a mystery of what is and is not real. Is Malik correct about the odd town or is he suffering from the after effects of the malicious experience? The character works so well thanks to an amazing performance from Willis. Malik is a strong character who suffers from moments of weakness. He is relatable thanks in part to the helplessness he feels. The uncertainty and fear in Malik is what will attract audiences to him.
Spiral is a horror movie above everything else. The terror is never lost in an overbearing message or poorly written story. There are some standard horror tropes, but the movie is much more about building moments than easy scares. This is a film that is genuinely frightening. Horror movies have never been afraid of making social commentary. The problem is when the message becomes the story and ends up making everything moot. This never happen in Spiral leaving audiences with one of the best horror movies of the year.
Spiral premieres on September 17 on Shudder.