Two new films that pair well together, Spiral and Alone, are both set in motion by people trying to move and escape a troubled past. The results are equally terrible as they follow their respective character on uniquely perilous journeys.
Spiral stars Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman as Malik in an unsettling and surprisingly affecting story of small-town horror. Malik is a writer moving to a new place with his partner Aaron. He's looking for a fresh start. Aaron's daughter is also in tow. Chill, right? Maybe? No. Malik will soon wish he'd never set foot there.
I told you, this is a double feature of dread.
On arriving, Malik begins to notice strange goings-on in the community. The neighbors appear to be doing some ritual—maybe a red flag—and there's a palpable sense of hostility toward them as newcomers, which reaches a boiling point when Malik's home gets tagged with a homophobic slur—definitely a red flag.
If you scroll through the comments on Spiral's trailer, you’ll see the reductive suggestion that the film is “basically Get Out for Gays.” That's... not exactly right.
Malik is not just visiting, like in Get Out, he's moving to the neighborhood. That distinction gives the story a very different perspective. Him being unwelcome means his attempt to start fresh will have failed, which provides the film complex emotional stakes.
Bowyer-Chapman is a compelling lead, and the viewer is locked in with Malik every step of the way as he pieces together the mysterious goings-on. It's also clear that Malik can do much better than Aaron, who, at nearly every turn, doubts and undermines him with a passive-aggressive tone. Aaron remains oblivious and almost cruel in response to Malik’s concerns. It's frustrating and a little excessive.
Thankfully, those hangups don’t undercut the narrative. As Malik begins to experience visions, which could be memories or premonitions or both, the film hints at a theme about how the past is never gone. As Malik tellingly says, “People don’t change, they just get better at hiding how they feel,” which serves as the film's thesis.
Prepare yourself for a genuinely frightening conclusion. Spiral proves that it has more on its mind than it first appears.
A story told in five parts, Alone is a remake of the Swedish film Försvunnen. It's a lean and effective survival story about a road trip gone awry—and it more than surpasses its source material.
Jessica, played by Jules Wilcox, has packed up all her possessions into a U-Haul and moved without telling anyone. She's running from a recent loss and wants to start over in the Pacific Northwest.
She gets much more than she bargained for when a man, played by a menacing Marc Menchaca, begins pursuing and harassing her. What starts as a misunderstanding on the road becomes a game of cat and mouse as Jessica must overcome various obstacles, from a punctured tire to a series of gruesome injuries, to be free of her pursuer.
What makes Alone stand out from other cat-and-mouse stories is how Jessica handles her situation. Far too often, characters are either trapped by their circumstances with no agency or—even worse—make terrible decisions that undercut the tension. Jessica makes a series of smart choices to try to escape her situation, making it more tense when they don’t work. The real fear comes from a character taking the best course of action only to have it not be enough.
The film's atmosphere is also appropriately used as Jessica goes from the quiet of the open road to the vastness of the woods. It creates a unique ambiance, whether it's her car's gentle rattling or the woods' eerie sounds. When that atmosphere is mixed in with a haunting score that swells at just the right moments, it cuts through the noise and elevates the film into new heights of terror.
In particular, Menchaca is alarming as the seemingly apparitional antagonist pursuing Jessica. He smoothly shifts from manipulative to macabre.
While there are some plot conveniences—most notably the destruction of a phone, which feels like a forced attempt to keep the plot moving—the film more than makes up for these hiccups with a conclusion that's cathartic and captivating.