Supernatural storytelling is, without question, the oldest form of art and entertainment known to humankind, as is evidenced by any serious study of the cross -comparative mythologies, legends, and folklore that comprised man's first and most powerful expressions of both himself and the often terrifying world around him. This fact has been ignored by intellectual tradition, political institutions, and religious branches whose primary function is to further its own basis of power at the expense of the aesthetic worth and enjoyment of storytelling. Horror and fantasy by their very nature examine and focus on subversive themes, challenging our notions of right or wrong, reality or the supernormal, perception or logic. This makes them immediately rewarding to the individual and threatening to the State, the later of which thrives on blind obedience. Most satisfying, as an extension, are those stories that resist knee-jerk or simplistic classification. Works that can neither be neatly labelled as realism or surrealism, depending on skewered psychological states to peel back the layers of perceived 'reality' and peer beneath the blinds of sensory perception. Spiral, the newest movie by director Adam Green and Joel David More, does precisely this, taking on such philosophically intriguing concepts as reality vs. perception in a manner thrilling enough to keep us interested and probing enough to exercise our grey matter. An astounding piece of art and entertainment, this mind bending thrill ride doesn't flinch from tackling issues of existence and identity that many other horror films -- and films in general-- possess neither the ability or tools to examine. The result is easily on par with such other existential classics as Jacob's Ladder, Spider, and Head Trauma, and is a reminder of how very intelligent, emotionally painful, and satisfying dark art can be when it is approached with care and seriousness.

As rich in plot and theme as it is in metaphor and style, Spiral's major triumph is a story that speaks to our species as a whole by exploring essential problems of the human condition as well as too the intimately crucial dilemmas of alienation and loss that plague the individual. Mason is a reclusive, introverted artist who feels more comfortable with the process of creating in his imagination than with other people. Living in the cold, heartless city of Portland, he exists in a half world -- a twilight land -- of pain, doubt, and desperation. Working in a phone bank, he barely lives at all, drowning in fruitless conversations with people who see him as a shadow, and whom he cannot relate to any more than he can identity what his heart wants (or what terrible things he may have already did). His only tie to humanity is his boss, Berkely, until he happens to meet the lively and attractive Amber, his new co-worker. Feeding off the need and loneliness of one another, she poses for Mason, and their relationship reveals aspects of Mason's soul that are both unexpected and dangerous, rushing the viewer to a heartbreaking and revolutionary conclusion as unpromising as it is bleak.

Spiral is that rarest of achievements, a piece of at that isn't self aware of the fact. This is too our good, as there is no moral posturing or conceit to be found, only sharp, meaningful characterizations, pain that one can feel as thick as skin, and an atmosphere that lives and breaths with a relentlessness and indecision that mirrors the confusion of very human characters. These characters are not caricatures but By-God-People who we could very easily know, and this magnifies their pain and joys, the need we feel for them to find happiness, and the sinking terror in our gut because we know things aren't going to end well. Portland itself is captured with an intensity and honesty that lends not simply color but attitude to the story. Pacing is stealthy and self assured, magnifying spots of crises when it should, and driving with relentless speed when it must. This stylistic direction is a masterful example of the 'slow burn' approach, milking every perfectly lit shot for suspense. Reminiscent of Polanski's Repulsion, this film is bound to draw comparisons with various art house and genre classics, yet its most notable achievement is maintaining its own identity. Green and Moore make the cosmic identifiable and as intimate to the individual as this morning's breakfast. This sense of immediacy makes the struggle of Mason and Amber our own, and the resulting chaos -- the nightmarish consequences of self-searching -- becomes the stuff of our very own worst nightmares. If Greene was rightly revered for his slasher homage Hatchet, and lauded for the intensity, enthusiastic violence, and outrageousness of that film, than he should be doubly congratulated here, for he has found terror at home, and made it twice as believable. Delicious ambiguity revolves around Mason's identity and perception of himself. As we find out more about him, we're conflicted between what we want and the truth. These nightmares are found in the living room and office cubicle, not in a gothic haunted forest, and the face staring back at us in the mirror is our own.

Spiral is treated with the care it deserves by Anchor Bay, presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, anamorphic ally enhanced. The picture is without flaw, with no noticeable grain or defects. Colors are vivid and convincing, and skin tones realistic. Audio is featured in Dolby Surround 5.1 and Dolby Surround 2.0. While both of these are serviceable, the later sounds cleanest, with evenly filtered effects and dialogue.

Extras are unfortunately sparse for this modern dark tragedy, particularly when there must be such intriguing stories revolving around the writing and filming processes, but the few options included are well worth your time. The most significant piece is the Commentary featuring Green, Moore, Jeremy Danial Boreing, Will Barratt, and actors Amber Tamblyn and Zachery Levi. These folks obviously enjoy each others company and respect one another, and this comes across in the several insightful tid-bits about the project's origins, the writing process, how actors approached their roles, and the filming experience. "The Making of Spiral" is less extensive, followed by a Theatrical Trailer and Previews.

Review by William P Simmons

Released by ANCHOR BAY
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review