Mason (Joel Moore) is an odd loner who can't sleep at night and spends his days sitting bored in a grey office where he works as an insurance telemarketer. He's a neurotic weirdo and chronic asthmatic who other employees try to steer well clear of.

Which is not difficult to do, given that each desk is blocked by ugly tall dividers.

The only person who could be viewed as Mason's friend is his handsome boss Berkeley (Zachary Levi). Berkeley went to school with Mason and appears to tolerate his late starts at the office and panicked telephone calls to his home at 3am, simply so he can verbally humiliate him in the workplace.

Then, one lunch break, cute new colleague Amber (Amber Tamblyn) sits at the park bench where Mason is eating his homemade peanut butter sandwiches and impresses herself upon him.

She's intrigued by the sketches he carries around with him. He doesn't want to share the identity of the girl he draws - a pretty waitress who he spends his evenings admiring from afar.

But as Amber gets to know Mason, he slowly opens up to her. Their bond grows, and she is allowed into his life - and into his home. His only stipulation is that she is not to interfere with his sketched portraits. He remains intensely private about this part of his life.

When the couple start dating - much to womanising Berkeley's bemusement - Mason offers to paint Amber. But, again, he insists that she must not look at his sketches until the painting is completed.

On Christmas morning no less, following the consummation of their relationship the evening before, Amber breaks Mason's only rule. This is not a good idea, as we've already been privy to Mason's disturbed state of mind illustrated by his nightly visitations from disembodied voices and stylised flashbacks that explain his fear of females.

Shortly afterwards, he turns to Berkeley to confide some shattering news about his relationship ...

Not to be confused with Higuchinsky's UZUMAKI (released in America as SPIRAL), this SPIRAL was co-directed by Moore and Adam Green.

Green, you may remember, gave us 2006's uneven comedy horror HATCHET. This time around, he and Moore have crafted a much more sober and satisfying film. Although it broods slowly for the most part, the film manages to affect through virtue of its strong performances and dark visual style. It's an impressively controlled affair.

As mentioned above, the performances are excellent and carry the low-key dramatics expertly.

Moore in particular straddles the thin line between being creepy and plausibly inept extremely well. Even when we know things are far from right, he's capable of keeping the audience's sympathies with him. He also plays nerdy very deftly, as you've no doubt witnessed previously in the likes of DODGEBALL and MY NAME IS EARL. But here there is a better-rounded and coolly dangerous element to his introverted oddness. Small wonder then that, since SPIRAL was made in 2007, his acting career has evolved to see him winning parts in the likes of AVATAR.

Tamblyn (THE GRUDGE 2) pulls off the role of Amber with just the right amount of charm and sassiness. She's bubbly, youthful and engaging without being too sexy so as to make a mockery of the whole set-up.

Some have already referred to SPIRAL as being "Hitchcockian". It's a lazy analogy but one that admittedly can be comprehended. The restrained screenplay dynamics, the tight yet leisurely mystery element, the quirky characters and the mordant black humour all reek of the master. As does the deliciously successful twist finale.

Filmed on location in Portland, Oregon, the film looks sufficiently drab and bleak - in keeping with the monotony of Mason's day-by-day life and the darkening of his mind as the film progresses.

Tackling themes of loneliness, alienation, loss and regret with subtlety and intelligence, SPIRAL is an enjoyable observational drama that pleasingly manages to keep one eye on its modest beginnings even when the ante is upped for the final third.

Universal's disc presents SPIRAL uncut in a decent if not mind-blowing 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. It's a frequently colourless film and therefore the transfer is limited with what it can do. That having been said, the disc offers a lot of detail and very sharp images.

English audio is provided in 2.0 and is a healthy, consistent track that is pleasingly free from hiss, drop-out or fluctuation. Optional subtitles are available in English, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish.

The only extra relating to SPIRAL is a 2-minute trailer that ably gets across the films tone and visual style. The trailer carries the Anchor Bay logo (they released the film in America).

A static main menu page leads into a static scene-selection menu allowing access to the film via 20 chapters.

The disc defaults to open with a briskly edited showcase of Universal titles, attempting to emphasise their support of 'independent' cinema (ANVIL, SOUTHLAND TALES etc). We also get trailers for PSYCH:9, SCAR (the 3D film) and THE BROKEN.

Anchor Bay's American DVD release also features an audio commentary track, three Behind The Scenes segments and a Making Of featurette.

Moody and low-key, SPIRAL is as much a great modern mystery thriller as it is a hugely satisfying entry into contemporary "indie" territory. With a singular look and feel, a great cast and taut script, it comes highly recommended.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Universal Pictures UK
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review