I’m not sure what “Spiral” is trying to accomplish. A psychological thriller, it’s a poorly-conceived offering of suspense, bending under the imposing weight of poor actors working with a rotten screenplay. It’s an obvious, overlong, determined misfire of a motion picture; a low-budget cinematic learning curve that should’ve remained a private educational tool for two filmmakers in dire need of storytelling practice.
Mason (Joel David Moore, “Grandma’s Boy”) is a mentally fragmented fellow working a cubical at an insurance company, while spending his free time appreciating jazz (a major thematic reach of the film) and painting women. He’s an introvert with dark psychological undercurrents, but when he meets Amber (Amber Tamblyn), he finds her friendliness soothes his disturbed mind, and allows her into his world. The two become friends, then lovers, but the more Amber learns of Mason’s previous artistic endeavors, the more she questions her safety.
“Spiral” is ambitious, but it’s also fatally flawed. Marking the feature-film directorial debut for actor Joel David Moore (with help from Adam Green, of the similarly messy “Hatchet”), the picture hopes to be a rain-soaked, jazz-infused “Taxi Driver 2;” a devastating, head-spinning account of a shattered individual finally allowed the freedom to pursue his dementia. The picture is reminiscent of a “Twilight Zone” episode, only Moore and Green are looking to fill 90 minutes, and they can’t quite cover the distance.
The screenplay, by Jeremy Danial Boreing and Moore, is dangerously thin, requiring vast amounts of patience from the viewer to sit there and swallow a concept and series of twists that are transparent and pedestrian. Perhaps inside a short film template, “Spiral” would’ve blossomed as a quick jab of mental trauma. At feature length, it’s a chore to watch, given that the filmmakers spend more time spinning their wheels in muddy pits of the obvious rather than challenging the material beyond its most predictable aspirations.
A great chunk of the problem lies in Moore’s performance. Only a few weeks ago I gave this actor the business for turning in one of the most obnoxious and ineffective comedic performances I have ever seen in Paris Hilton’s bomb “Hottie and the Nottie.” Turns out, Moore isn’t such a dynamic dramatic actor either.
Moore’s work as Mason is a perfect example how not to play a sympathetic psychopath. Instead of gently shading the character’s evils and anti-social behavior, Moore plays him huge (not unlike Frankenstein’s Monster), lurching around the frame like a paranoid maniac. It kicks open the most obvious question: why in the hell would Amber even entertain the ridiculous notion of getting close to this manr Mason practically has “I RAPE” tattooed on his forehead. Nothing about their relationship makes sense, real or imagined. Moore doesn’t know the meaning of a subtle, unsettling performance, and he turns Mason into a sticky, unshowered exclamation point of horror. Heck, I thought the character was supposed to be mentally-challenged for the first 80 minutes of the piece, that’s how baffling the acting is.
The very minute Mason shows up onscreen, you will know everything there is to know about the character arc and motivation, leaving the rest of “Spiral” an aggravating, unconvincing game of checking off art-film ill-temper cliches one by one.
In contrast, Tamblyn’s work is a fountain of unexpected humanity; she’s the only actor present to fathom the idea of not revealing all her cards at frame one. Considering her character is utterly bewildering and ineffective, Tamblyn gets the most mileage out of her scenes; also doing the film a favor by taking the attention off Moore’s primitive acting effort.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio), the DVD’s image retains the standard amount of color and detail a low-budget film like this could spare. Black levels aren’t nearly as strong as the rest of the image, but the majority of the DVD evokes the intended feeling of dread.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix only puffs up during the film’s few sequences of shock, and for the soundtrack offerings. Otherwise, it’s a stable, simple design that separates dialogue and music satisfactorily.
The feature-length audio commentary with directors Adam Green and Joel David Moore, writer Jeremy Danial Boreing, director of photography Will Barratt, and actors Amber Tamblyn and Zachary Levi is a shockingly subdued affair. Considering the amount of people in the room, information is portioned out peacefully and speedily. The group discusses the particulars of shooting on a prison site (subbing for the insurance company), working in the extreme cold, the project’s more modest origins, the controversial use of pop tunes, declarations of ridiculous symbolism (“people don’t get this”), and they describe 40 minutes of deleted scenes that are not on the DVD.
If you enjoy “Spiral,” there’s a buffet of information here to gorge on.
“Spinning Spiral: The Making of ‘Spiral'” (8 minutes) explores the cold, wet production with cast and crew interviews and a generous offering of BTS footage. Considering the subject matter, it’s a happy set, with actor Zachary Levi (playing Mason’s loutish boss and only friend) the ringmaster of frat-house horsing around.
“Cinefile Promos” (9 minutes total) are short BTS featurettes from the fine folks at Starz Cinema. They offer a little more direct dosage of the “Spiral” production experience.
And finally, a theatrical trailer is included, making the film seem far more exciting than it actually is.
“Spiral” goes for a sucker-punch conclusion, but Moore and Green neuter any slap-across-the-face effect by piping in a completely inappropriate upbeat pop song that shifts the final moments of the film away from blood-curdling revelation and into a brainless Diet Coke commercial. “Spiral” is not remotely effective by any genre measuring stick, wasting precious time and money on a production that was obviously defective and unprepared from the start.Rating: D