Spiral (V)

I don’t think I need to remind everyone how much I loved Adam Green’s Hatchet, but suffice to say I was very curious what his follow up would be. Luckily, he chose to go as far from Hatchet as possible with Spiral, which can barely even be considered a horror movie. Many of the new horror directors followed up with either a sequel to their first film (hell, Bousman made THREE Saw films in a row before finally leaving Jigsaw behind!), or continue exploring the same themes (Rob Zombie’s Haddonfield seems to be populated with extras from Devil’s Rejects), or just ignored the genre all together (come back, Zack Snyder!).

But Green (who actually co-directed with Joel Moore, who also wrote and produced the film) retains nothing from Hatchet, other than appearing in another brief cameo as a guy who glares at Moore’s character. Instead, Spiral tells the story of Mason (Moore), a guy who is clearly suffering from a mental problem or two, not to mention extreme asthma. He only has one friend (Chuck’s Zachary Levi – in a surprisingly great performance), and his daily bagged lunch is seemingly stolen from a 4th grader (is it even possible to get those little cardboard milk cartons anywhere besides a middle school?). Then a really hot girl (Amber Tamblyn) comes along….

Well, I don’t want to spoil too much about it. But let’s just say that if you think you have figured out the movie’s ending halfway through (as I did), you will most likely be wrong. Moore and co-writer Jeremy Boreing did a great job constructing the film, and the twist (or twists, I guess) holds up when you think about what came before (but it doesn’t come completely out of left field and ruin the entire movie either, like High Tension).

One thing about the film that may turn some folks off is that Moore’s character is SO strange, it might become difficult for them to deal with, especially since he is in just about every frame of the film (about 10 minutes before the film ends, Moore leaves a scene and we stay with Levi’s character, and you realize that it’s the first time in the film we have been in a scene that wasn’t from Moore’s perspective). You might also wonder why Tamblyn would be interested in him at all, as she just sort of forces herself into his daily routine when it seems she would fit in fine with the regular folks.

Still, minor flaws in an otherwise really good and unique movie. It proves Green can make something besides funny slasher movies, and the performances from all three leads (all cast against type) are the best in their careers. It won’t be for everyone (especially those expecting another Hatchet), but those who enjoy a character based thriller should really dig it.

On the technical side of things, the DVD was something of a revelation. Ironically, when I first saw the film it was on DVD, and it looked pretty bad (badly processed and then blown-up to fit a theater screen). So I am happy to report that the picture is outstanding, with Will Barratt’s careful and selective use of color all the more apparent (not to mention helping get some of the films ideas across better than the washed-out version I saw before). Water can be tricky on DVD, bad compression on a water scene can result in a truly ugly picture, but this film (in which it seems to rain in every scene) looks perfect for the entire running time. The 5.1 sound also sounds great, the unique (jazz) score deserves to be heard in surround sound.

As for extras, while not as comprehensive as the Hatchet disc, are still pretty generous. There’s a commentary track with just about all of the principles behind and in front of the camera (Tamblyn disappears 2/3 of the way through for some reason though). This is the type of commentary you want to listen to – it’s funny as hell and informative at the same time, as Green, Moore, et al detail production problems, point out background things, joke with one another (Moore seems particularly amused by Levi’s newfound success as the star of NBC’s Chuck), etc. A great track. The disc also offers a few behind the scenes bits that originally aired on the Starz network (ironically, long before Starz and Anchor Bay merged), which are shorter than I’d like, especially in the 2nd piece, in which Moore and one of the producers have an argument about something, but we never know about what (or how it was resolved). The 3rd piece is pretty hilarious, showing Green and Moore working on the film’s editing, and offering a few Chuck Norris facts as they do (“Time waits for no man, unless that man is Chuck Norris.”). The trailer is also included.

All in all, it’s easy to recommend this film if you like thrillers and character pieces. Your opinions on Hatchet should have no effect on the film, as they share nothing that matters in common (other than the lead actor). Spiral will be released in select cities on February 1st, and the DVD will hit stores a few weeks later.

Official Score