“SPIRAL”— Malik and Aaron

“SPIRAL”

Malik and Aaron

Amos Lassen

“Spiral” opens with Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) talking to step-daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte) about men. She’s at an age where hearing about others’ mistakes could help her to avoid her own. He tells her that men are mostly pretty awful really except for her dad and Aaron (Ari Cohen), his partner.  Aaron and Malik have been together for a long time now and things feel easy between them. They live in a  small town in a new place by a lake where life is supposed to be simpler and easier and better for Kayla, whom they both worry about in the city where anything could happen. But is this new place safe? Malik quickly picks up on homophobic and racist vibes, and there are less subtle occurrences which make him uncomfortable. Aaron, who has presumably helped him through PTSD from an earlier experience, dismisses all this. The world isn’t like that anymore, he says.

“Spiral” is one of those films that just couldn’t have been made before cinema brought in gay characters from beyond the fringes. It turns the way women have been treated in film in the past and uses it on men. Malik is vulnerable by his race in ways that just don’t occur to Aaron. He has had paranoid episodes in the past and can’t fully trust his own senses. Bowyer-Chapman is excellent and makes us feel for him even when we really can’t tell what’s real. We see him as s an intelligent man doing his best to remain rational in a crazy situation. It is his performance that really elevates the film.

Malik’s predicament makes it difficult to draw easy conclusions and the viewer questions how much they might be missing in the world around them. “Spiral” explories the power imbalances in relationships and all the little ways in which people don’t listen to each other and themes around communication on multiple levels.

Aaron has no intuition. Malik has no common sense. They are the perfect victims for small-town cult. However, the film suggests they are really being targeted because of their “otherness” as a gay couple. Malik still gets flashbacks of his high school lover getting bashed to death before his eyes and so do we as the audience. This traumatic event has profoundly shaped his persona and worldview. He even still takes medication for the lingering PTSD. Aaron was once married to a woman, with whom he had his daughter Kayla. The new house looks comfortable but gives off bad vibes that only Malik picks up on them.

He says nothing when someone breaks into the house to spray a slur across their living room wall, quickly painting over it before Aaron or Kayla can see it. However, when the unwelcoming old man across the street has a late-night freak-out on their lawn, Malik starts to suspect the neighborhood really is out to get them. Nevertheless, Aaron insists everything is fine, except maybe Malik’s paranoia. Kayla is no help in any of this— she is, after all, a teenager.

“Spiral” hinges on Aaron giving more credence to strangers than to his committed partner.Directed by Kurtis David Harder, it begins as many horror films begin, with a love scene from the past that ends tragically, before moving forward to its main time frame, some ten years later. Since it is set in 1995, the internet and cell phones are not there for moments of need.

Malik and Aaron have moved from Chicago and as Aaron goes to work, while Malik settles into the drudgery of ghost-writing an autobiography for a racist white man. It’s not long, however, before Malik senses that something is not quite right with the peaceful rural community. 

For one thing, an older, white neighbor stares across the property at Malik without speaking. As a Black man in America during the 1990s, Malik is unhappily accustomed to ignoring such unwelcoming looks, but then he notices it again when he is on his morning run. Is the overwhelmingly white town reacting to him by staring because he is Black? Or is it because he and Aaron are a same-sex couple?  But then it might be something else altogether.The opening scene establishes that something was not quite right in the vicinity, and Malik’s own past experiences suggest that something traumatic may be what is unsettling his present state of mind. For their part, Malik and Aaron’s other neighbors, Marshal (Lochlyn Munro) and Tiffany (Chandra West), are a hetero couple who represent the majority in town, though they are friendly enough to the two men. 

However, Malik’s heightened radar has been alerted but Aaron dismisses Malik’s rising concerns. Soon enough, Malik finds himself alone as he deals with his increasing anxieties that may, in fact, be very real. Something more is afoot, as Malik is about to discover.

“Spiral” gives us  s an intricate and complex story that, whilst dealing with the expected horror, also has a lot to say. Even though it is set in the nineties, there are a lot of similarities that can be drawn to today’s social climate and its acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s important, however,  to note that although the film does deal with the prejudices that people in a same-sex couple have to endure, Malik and Aaron themselves are not defined by their sexuality. Malik and Aaron just happen to be the same sex. This could have just as easily been a tale about a heterosexual interracial couple. The overarching message wouldn’t be quite as strong, but Malik and Aaron are simply characters who happen to be gay but aren’t defined by it.

There’s a lot of mystery here. As Malik starts to look into those around him, we are right there with him, trying to figure the puzzle out for themselves.