Queer horror has a lot of places to go that it hasn’t gone before but it’s picking up steam, and taking us to places both fantastical and all too real. With Spiral, co writers John Poliquin (director of Grave Encounters 2) and Colin Minihan (director of What Keeps You Alive and the upcoming Urban Legend reboot) and director Kurtis David Harder (Incontrol) take us to a moment in time – not too long ago – that places a queer couple in the midst of a new situation with startling and dangerous results.
It’s 1995. Married couple, Aaron (Ari Cohen) and Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) have just moved to a new suburban neighborhood with Aaron’s daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte). With Aaron out of the house for most of the day at his new job, Malik is left to try and bond with Kayla while also writing an exposé on conversion therapy. As Malik goes about his daily routine, the stares from neighbors begin to make him uncomfortable. The stares lead to homophobic threats which leads to Malik witnessing a strange ritual at the neighbors’ house…the same neighbors who seem to be open to Aaron and Malik’s relationship. Underneath the facade of acceptance, this neighborhood has plans for the young family and Malik must unwrap the secrets of their new neighbors before it’s too late.
The biggest draw of Spiral was the representation of marginalized individuals. A biracial same-sex couple moving in to any neighborhood during the mid-90s would draw a lot of stares but the interactions between the family and the residents of the neighborhood were quaintly relatable even by today’s times. In this predominantly white, straight neighborhood, Aaron and Malik are a conundrum that the residents seem to accept, despite the glares and hate speech painted on their living room wall.
All of this is covered up by Malik who wants his new family not to worry. It also acts as a trigger due to a past experience that he had as a teenager when his boyfriend was murdered in front of him because of their sexuality. There’s a moment when Malik receives a warning from a fellow neighbor that should have led him to pack the family up, but instead, Malik stays and hopes to uncover some sort of truth on his own.
While that truth lies within the spectrum of occult horror, the true villain is the bigoted American. As the film reveals, this sort of stance never really disappears. Although there may occasionally seem to be a reprieve from the hate and bigotry, there’s always an underbelly just waiting to overpower acceptance with hate. The “horror” of Spiral is a little contrived in the same way that a lot of films are when you spend too much time wondering why the characters aren’t pumping the brakes before things get too out of hand. There are also moments that bring in a supernatural aspect that felt completely off-tone for the film. Teleportation and ghostly specters enter the story as the intensity of the plot increases and although you may worry these things won’t be fully explained, the pieces do sort of fall in place during the final moments.
While the story may have had some flaws, the message behind it softened those wounds. For some horror viewers, Spiral may teeter too much on the side of being too inclusive but that’s what horror needs, and it is what horror is finally heading towards. Underrepresented individuals are getting their stories told within the genre, and it’s giving a voice to not just the characters within the films, but also for the people creating these stories.
“Spiral may teeter too much on the side of being too inclusive but that’s what horror needs, and it is what horror is finally heading towards.”
Spiral debuts exclusively on Shudder on September 17th. Experience the suburban occult horror, and let us know what you thought on our Twitter, reddit, Instagram, and on The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook.