Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Green Amber Read: Spiral (2007) Reveiw

Spiral begins with our main man, Mason (Joel David Moore), in a disorienting scene of psychosis. It’s late at night and Mason is having some sort of panic attack. He’s hyperventilating and generally acting like his world is about to end (kinda like when I run out of beer). The light spilling from the bathroom door jamb seems to be the source of his disquiet, but there’s obviously more to it than simply being shocked by the cost of energy-saving light bulbs.

Mason telephones his friend Berkeley (Zachary Levi) who calmly talks him into taking a hit of Ventolin and dragging his neurotic ass back to bed. Berkeley’s weary demeanour gives you the impression that this isn’t the first time he’s had to deal with one of Mason’s intense late night anxiety attacks.

In the calm light of the following day Mason goes to work at an insurance company where he disinterestingly sells insurance over the phone. He goes to every effort to avoid any and all human contact on the way to his neat sterile office cubicle. He can’t, however, avoid Berkeley who, it turns out, is also his boss. Berkely berates him for being late, but it seems like the dressing down is more for the benefit of other employees. He needs to be seen to be disciplining Mason. You get the distinct impression, from these early encounters, that Berkeley has assumed the role of a pseudo guardian for the barely functional Mason.

Before too long, Mason is befriended by a new hire at the insurance company, Amber (Amber Tamblyn). Over lunch one day, she notices the sketches of a beautiful woman that Mason has in his spiral sketch book and starts inquiring about his art and the woman featured in it. Mason is not forthcoming with details, which seems to pique Amber’s interest even further. Through sheer persistence Amber forges a friendship, of sorts, with Mason and eventually starts modelling for him in a new series of sketches and paintings.

"Perhaps if I act like a complete weirdo no one will notice me."

Spiral is a slow burn psychological thriller that rewards the patient viewer. I guess it’s not difficult to guess how the movie might end, as there’s really only two or three ways it can play out, but I was never really certain about which way it was going to go. Even if you are certain you have the movie’s conclusion pegged, I’d suggest that the journey there is still pretty intriguing, and often suspenseful. It plays like a more thrilling version of He Was A Quiet Man.

Unlike Hatchet and Frozen, Adam Green is working from someone else’s script here. It’s less talky and humorous than his own screenplays but Green, the director, shows he is perfectly capable of turning the leaner script into an involving movie. He has no trouble making the dialogue-free scenes compelling viewing.

The performances are all pretty good, but the movie really rests on Joel David Moore’s shoulders. He co-wrote the script, co-produced the movie and plays the lead of Mason. He’s reasonably solid most of the time but occasionally I thought he overplayed Mason’s sullen but nervous routine. Maybe it was just because he was on screen so much, but at times it felt like I was watching an actor playing an anxious basket case rather than an actual anxious basket case.

The other minor niggle I had was with a really jarring exchange between Mason and Amber where I felt like I was suddenly listening to the screenwriter talking, not the characters. In a conversation where Amber is telling Mason about her dislike of the insurance company job, she rather oddly says she’d rather be a “feminist or a ninja”. It’s a truly bizarre line and Tamblyn, not surprisingly, struggles to deliver it with conviction. Mason then asks Amber what it is that feminists do (an equally odd response, that’s clearly a contrived set up for Amber’s punch line). Amber responds by saying that feminists just bitch and complain about stuff. Good grief. It’s not funny, it’s completely out of character, and you can’t help but think you’re listening to the film-maker’s “voice” instead of that of the character. Granted, it’s a fairly minor misdemeanour in an otherwise accomplished movie, but Green and Moore need to get out of the habit of using their characters as personal mouth pieces.

With Sprial, Adam Green continues to demonstrate his ability to create interesting genre pictures with limited resources, and also shows that he’s no one trick pony. Hatchet, Spiral and Frozen are all quite different movies, but the one thing that they have in common is that they’re all quite good.


  1. Nice analysis. I really like this one, but do have a minor niggle of my own, why is Amber Tamblyn's character drawn to Mason in the first place? He's so dysfunctional that it seems he would drive away any reasonably sane person, yet this attractive newcomer is intrigued enough to start a relationship. Admittedly, there's a slight chance that someone like Mason would come across a girl who digs creepy guys, but enough girls to fill a sketchbook? Come on.

  2. Yeah, that's a good question. I put it down to Amber enjoying the challenge of getting through to Mason. But, you're right, it was a bit of a stretch for someone like her to be interested in someone like him.


    As for the other women Mason had sketched I think we are supposed to assume they were all figments of his imagination, and that Amber was the first real person he'd drawn. At least, that's how I read it after Mason's final exchange with Berkeley.