Every so often a horror movie pops up that twists the typical tropes into something we weren’t expecting. Recently, Cabin in the Woods, Don’t Breathe and 10 Cloverfield Lane all veered from their starting points, fully delivering thrills while taking us down unexpected roads. While there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the rules, it’s also fun to ride on the road less traveled once in a while – provided it’s done well, of course. Veteran Midwestern director Joe Clarke manages to get it right in his new bizarro thriller Spiral.
Five guys who were friends in high school, but have since grown apart, reunite for a bachelor party in rural Iowa. After a crazy night of drugs and strippers, one of the guys goes missing. Pretty straightforward, right? Not exactly. Suddenly things turn very David Lynch-y with strange, mysterious characters talking backward, cultish strippers, a dimensional vortex, and even a dwarf. If you’re expecting the typical Agatha Christie slasher, you’re sorely mistaken.
“…with strange, mysterious characters talking backward, cultish strippers, a dimensional vortex, and even a dwarf.“
As both writer and director, Clarke has given us something great to look at while keeping us enthralled in his strange premise. The narrative flows through his beautifully composed imagery, bringing a visceral sense to the complex storyline. Granted, you’ll probably be scratching your head at the end wondering what it all means as some of the arcs are left dangling, but the ride is worth it if you don’t insist on a tangible outcome.
As relative unknowns, the cast exceeds expectations, delivering solid performances throughout the chaotic nightmare. As the plot gets crazier, they stay true to form when it would be easy to turn hammy. Alex Kachingwe’s synthwave-inspired score is noteworthy as well, alternating between powerful pulsing electronics and ominous tones.
It’s nice to know there are filmmakers willing to turn genres upside down to get something more interesting than the standard storyline. Spiral succeeds because it is different. You don’t need a lot of money to be effective, you just need to know what you’re doing. Joe Clarke does.
Spiral (2018) Directed by Joe Clarke. Written by Joe Clarke. Starring Anthony Stratton, Hays McEachern, Michael Vlamis, Mitch Westphal, Tyler Thirnbeck, Shara McGlinn, Angela Billman and TJ Morris.
8 out of 10 stars