Moving out of the city and into a small town can be a big change for anyone, but it’s especially difficult if you are noticeably different from the people around you. Pour one out for Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen) in Spiral, a loving interracial gay couple who move to the countryside in 1995 in order to ensure a better life for their sixteen-year-old daughter, Kayla (Jennifer Laporte).
At first, the neighbors seem friendly if only a little patronizing. Malik, who is black, is mistaken for Aaron’s gardener when a fellow resident comes to give them a housewarming gift. Malik soon realizes something is deeply wrong when he comes home one day to see the word “faggot” written in big red capital letters on his wall. This comes as quite a shock: he expected ignorance and misunderstandings — even if in fact, the neighbors seem quite supportive in an annoying kind of way — but this outright hatred is something else.
He tries to get Aaron to notice, but to no avail. In resulting scenes, Spiral contains one of the most egregious uses of the “disbelieving partner” trope in living memory. While it’s standard for one half of the relationship in a horror film to be far more skeptical than the other — for example, Hereditary or the first Insidious film — Spiral literally has evidence of a hate crime that is bizarrely dismissed with a half-assed excuse so silly it simply doesn’t make sense.
I guess Spiral tries to make a comment here about how one’s reaction to hate can often make things worse; the more that Malik pushes back and points out that something is wrong, the more that he finds the situation spiralling out of control. And to his credit, he has every right to be concerned: these people wrote “faggot” on his wall in the first third of the film! What’s particularly annoying is that if he had pointed that out in the first place — something that definitely cannot be waved off — then his partner would’ve had to take him seriously. The commentary doesn’t work if the screenplay doesn’t make sense.
This conflict is symptomatic of the film as a whole: while it contains a serious message about the horrors that same-sex couples, and perhaps interracial same-sex couples, in particular, can face, this isn’t convincingly rendered in any dramatical sense. The film then tries to tie this homophobia into a deeper decennial ritual, but the folklore needed to pull this type of concept off is severely underdeveloped.
The world is still crying out for a convincing contemporary queer horror that provokes conversation within the LGBT and wider community like Get Out did for race. Spiral is not that film. At least it boasts an interesting performance by Canadian actor and model Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, who in his intensity and passion gives the film something to hold onto even while it flounders. Here’s hoping he finds something that matches his talent with his next venture.