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Drawing the madness from within

A surprise new thriller takes a look at art, jazz, telemarketing and terrible, terrible nightmares

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Spiral

Directed by Adam Green and Joel Moore. Written by Mr. Moore and Jeremy Daniel Boreing. Edited by Cory Livingston. Cinematography by Will Barratt. Starring Mr. Moore, Amber Tamblyn, Zachary Levi, Annie Neal and Tricia Helfer. 90 minutes, released in 2007. DVD bonus features include audio commentary, a making-of feature, and trailer.
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    DVD review by Ray Young

        In their previous film, Hatchet (2006), actor Joel Moore and director Adam Green paid homage to the slasher flicks of the 1980s, Friday the 13th in particular. It had an ugly, unstoppable killer gutting hot babes and dumb guys in a swampy maze. It also had a sense of style and humor which made it a far better picture than it ought to have been.
        Still, there was nothing about its gooey dismemberments and airborne limbs to predict the understatement and restraint of Spiral. An apparent labor of love for the actor, Moore stars, co-wrote the screenplay (with Jeremy Daniel Boreing), and shares director credit with Green. The gory innards of Hatchet are percolating between the lines, but Spiral is a quiet observation of an outsider fumbling to fit in, a work indebted more to Roman Polanski than Freddy Kruger.
        Moore plays Mason, a reclusive artist suffering from depression, recurring nightmares and stunted social skills. He works as a telemarketer for Berkeley (Zachary Levi), a sympathetic boss whose brotherly care enables Mason to maintain a degree of composure. On the surface a womanizer and aggressive neanderthal, Berkeley may see in Mason the softer qualities he’d like for himself. Cannily written, the screenplay never spells it out and allows us to ponder it on our own.
        A chance meeting with a new employee, Amber (Amber Tamblyn), temporarily draws the artist out of his shell. Humble, carefree, funny and sensitive—laying bare everything the men suppress—she opens up about her hopes and ambitions, prompting Mason to introduce her to his secret world of art and love of jazz. Eventually painting Amber in a variety of poses, he becomes increasingly distressed by a ghostly, nameless woman (Annie Neal) who has crossed over from his dreams.
        Shot on a modest budget in Portland, Oregon, its dreary environs are used to enhance the prevailing melancholy. Quite unexpectedly, Todd Caldwell and Michael “Fish” Herring’s jazz score, along with the diffused lighting and soft pastel tones captured by cinematographer Will Barratt take a radical departure from what we’ve come to expect from a low budget thriller.
        The cast conveys the transient behavior of individuals groping for stability. Just twenty-five years old, Amber Tamblyn has been acting professionally most of her life. The daughter of actor Russ Tamblyn, her film work includes The Ring (2002) and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005). Filled with nervous energy, her talkative and potentially overbearing character in Spiral is tempered by a rare naturalness and earthy humility. Likewise, Zachary Levi could’ve easily played it big and diminish Berkeley’s credibility. But he utilizes his male aggression sparingly and believably, even when the film seems unsure about his connection to Mason. Joel Moore is altogether focused as the frustrated bohemian, a character carrying a truckload of baggage. The actor’s achievement here behind and in front of the camera indicates the beginning of an interesting career.

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