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Spiral (2007)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
DVD Released: 2/19/2008

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/15/2008

The sophomore slump is a term which is used when the second project from an artist doesn't live up to the promise or success of their first project. The typical thinking is that the artist spent all of their creative energy on their premiere outing, and thus had little to give to their second effort. (This seems to happen a lot in music, where few bands can top their first album.) Is there a term which would be appropriate when the second release from an artist is worse than their first one...when the first one wasn't that good to begin with? If that term exists, then let's apply it to Spiral.

As Spiral opens, we meet Mason (Joel David Moore), a slouchy loser who loves jazz and sells insurance over the phone. Mason is a sketcher and painter, and he appears to enjoy painting women. He is often nervous and is constantly seeing flashes of a waitress. Also, there's a room in his apartment which he refuses to enter. At work, Mason keeps to himself, and his only friend is Berkeley (Zachary Levi). One day, a young woman named Amber (Amber Tamblyn) sits beside Mason at lunch and begins a conversation. Mason is very standoffish at first, but eventually, he warms up and begins talking to Amber. Despite Mason's aloof nature, Amber seems to enjoy Mason's company and they begin to see one another outside of work. Mason talks to Amber about jazz and he eventually convinces her to pose for a painting. As Mason creates the portraits of Amber, his performance at work improves and Berkeley compliments him on it. But, his behavior at home becomes more erratic and Amber begins to suspect that Mason may be dangerous.

Spiral comes to us from some of the same team which was responsible for Hatchet, a film which has been severely over-hyped. While it was sort of fun and had some nice gore, it was also instantly forgettable and played much better as a comedy than a horror film. I take no pleasure in stating that Hatchet looks like a genuine classic next to the anemic Spiral.

Spiral was co-written, co-directed, co-produced, and stars Joel David Moore, the gawky actor who was one of the main characters in Hatchet, so I guess most of the blame must go to him. (Moore is good in supporting roles, such as in Dodgeball, but he doesn't quite cut it as a lead.) Spiral opens by introducing us to Mason, who is an instantly unlikable character and it only goes downhill from there. From the outset, we get the feeling that Mason is unhinged and it's implied that he's killed someone. This is the film's first big mistake. If your main character is going to be a psycho, then they'd better be a very dynamic person, or you'd better hide that fact from the audience. Look at Norman Bates for example. When he first came on-screen, he was certainly jittery, but he had a certain innocent charm. It wasn't until later that we learned to distrust him. But, Spiral comes out swinging with a nerdy, awkward, social misfit who may be a killer. Are we supposed to latch on to him?

I really can't see an audience doing this, but everyone else in the film does with no explanation as to why. Berkeley seems like a fairly cool guy and he's a supervisor at the insurance company, but we're never told why he's friends with Mason. For the bulk of the film, I thought that they were brothers! Were they childhood friends? Is Berkeley just a saint? Similarly, Amber is a cute and perky young woman who seems fairly normal. Why is she drawn to this man who won't talk to her. If we don't like Mason, how are supposed to believe that anyone else will?

Spiral's biggest problem is that it commits the greatest sin that any film can: it's boring. For 90 minutes, we sit and watch Mason mope from one situation to the next. He occasionally gets all twitchy and has some hallucinations, but other than that, nothing really happens in the movie. There is no suspense, because as the first half of the film drags on, the viewer forgets what we are supposed to be anxious about. There is one brief scene of violence in the movie, but it does nothing to liven the pace of the film. The film is further marred by the irritating jazz score which seems to play in every scene. I'm sure that the makers of Spiral thought that everything would be fine once the viewer reached the "twist" ending. The problem with the ending here is that the words "clever" or "shocking" don't spring to mind, but rather words like "cheap" and "manipulative". The movie takes us down one path so that astute viewers will assume that a certain ending is coming, and then at the end, it goes in the opposite direction. The writers should have spent more time fleshing out the characters instead of trying to dupe the audience.

Spiral was made by a group of buddies who, having made a slasher film, wanted to make more of a psychological thriller. That's an admirable goal, but the result is a boring film with an unlikable main character, annoying music, and an unsatisfying conclusion. The only good thing that I can say about Spiral is that there's some very nice moving camerawork in it. Perhaps the camera should have kept moving until it found a better movie.

Spiral suffers for its art on DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This is a nice transfer, as the image is very sharp and clear. There is virtually no grain on the image and there are no defects from the source material. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark, despite the fact that the exteriors are often overcast. I noted hints of video noise at times, but otherwise the video is solid. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are fine and while the music is awful, it comes through nicely. Mason's hallucination scenes provide a nice amount of surround and subwoofer effects.

The Spiral DVD contains a few extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring Director Adam Green, Writer/Producer/Director/Actor Joel David Moore, Writer/Producer Jeremy Daniel Boreing, Director of Photography Will Barratt, and Actors Amber Tamblyn and Zachary Levi. This is a pretty good commentary, as Green and Moore do the majority of the talking. We learn a great deal about the unusual locations used for the film and the creative set decorations. The actors discuss their experiences, and the group points out on-screen issues which we may not have noticed otherwise. "Spinning Spiral: The Making of Spiral" (8 minutes) is made up solely of on-set footage showing the cast and crew at work. There is no overall narrative here and no "official" interviews, but we do get comments from the cast, mostly from Zachary Levi. "Cinefile Promo" is broken up into three 3 minute segments (I'm not sure why) which explore the making of the film. This piece does include interviews with the cast and filmmakers, along with behind-the-scenes footage, and we learn a great deal about the conception and making of the movie. The TRAILER for Spiral rounds out the extras.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long