As much as I enjoy the gorefest that is HATCHET, I really hope that Adam Green does not get pigeonholed in making only the gore filled cheesy splatterfests. I say this because his work with serious psychological drama or thrillers often ends up being immensely more enjoyable. I enjoy good violent escapism as much as any horror fan, but nothing compares to a deep emotional connection to complex and interesting character pieces like his most current film FROZEN and SPIRAL.
SPIRAL features Mason (Joel David Moore), a very timid and antisocial telemarketer, who’s only friend is his boss, Berkeley. Mason has a love of sketching and painting women in various different poses, and one day a fellow co-worker Amber (Amber Tamblyn) reaches out to him by first complementing his artwork. She continues sparking conversations with him at lunch until the two eventually start hitting it off and Mason begins coming out of his shell. Amber relieves Mason’s timid personality enough to alleviate the strained friendship between Mason and Berkeley even though Berkeley is suspect to Mason getting too close due to problems from Mason’s past. As their relationship moves forward Amber begins to realize that Mason may have deeper issues than she ever could have guessed.
SPIRAL is a film that relies greatly on the characters within the film and how they interact with each other, and in that regard the film is infinitely engaging. There was more than one occasion where I felt it was dragging a little but with the way the events conclude, some slow moments are a small price to pay. It takes a very heavy exposition approach, leaving very little obvious action on screen, but setting a great deal of tension in how well the characters are portrayed and the idea that you’re watching a very unstable character in Mason, and feel he could snap at any moment. Low budget films benefit greatly with great writing and capable actors and SPIRAL possesses both; big names and tons of special effects do not always spell success.
I have always connected to films that present tortured characters that live their lives in their head and Joel David Moore personifies that character better than I thought he could. I can’t help but feel for characters that people mock, pity and look down at, it gets me every time, especially when done well. I am very impartial to movies that toy with the psyche and your perceptions then twist them around and keep you guessing, and Green with the help of co-director Moore have crafted a very good example of that. There will be a moment where you can guess where this is going and then it turns the table getting you thinking something else before doing it again; it’s great at keeping you on your toes.
Aside from Joel David Moore’s performance as Mason, Zachary Levi as Mason’s best friend Berkeley is pitch perfect as the friend that is uncompromising in his approach to get Mason out of his funk in a mean and unconventional way, but also has glimpses of genuine concern. He is a character that probably shouldn’t be as likable as he is, but with his glimpses of humanity behind his ‘jerk’ persona make him really hard to hate. At one point his hard exterior breaks and it’s one of those extremely human moments that strike all the right beats, and that’s a point where I couldn’t help but love the film. It’s also happens at a moment where you feel like you can breathe a sigh of relief, but the film still has a trick up its sleeve to knock you down another peg.
The beginning of the film plays with your expectations in that you believe you may be in store for an entirely different movie than what you get. As the film moved from scene to scene I knew I was in for a slow burning thriller that was going to slowly unveil a new piece of information taunting me to try and put the pieces together before I knew what the whole picture was going to be. Forcing incorrect solutions where they don’t belong without contemplating each piece individually before making a move. It’s that filmmaking approach that really rewards the viewer as it hits layers of emotional and intellectual complexity and leaves you with a very satisfied if uneasy sense of closure.
My only regret upon watching SPIRAL is that I’ve waited so long to check it out. With this film and FROZEN, Adam Green shows he is a filmmaker with the tools to tackle just about anything with a minimal budget and emerge with a film of greater depth than most Hollywood ventures. It’s not a film built for mass consumption, but more discerning viewers will find more than enough here to chew on.