Like an urban cousin of Jon Heder's "Napoleon Dynamite" as filtered through Edgar Allan Poe, the disturbed and delusional aspiring artist at the center of "Spiral" promises much terror and delivers far less. A prizewinner at Santa Barbara fest, the pic will spur interest at regional fests, with cable a more likely market than theatrical.

Like an urban cousin of Jon Heder’s “Napoleon Dynamite” as filtered through Edgar Allan Poe, the disturbed and delusional aspiring artist at the center of “Spiral” promises much terror and delivers far less. The creation of lead thesp Joel David Moore and Adam Green (as co-directors) and Moore and Jeremy Danial Boreing (as co-writers), pic works up an unsettling mood but falls back on narrative tricks rather than plumbing the depths of a character with considerable cinematic potential. A prizewinner at Santa Barbara fest, the pic will spur interest at regional fests, with cable a more likely market than theatrical.

Jittery opener shows Mason (Moore) nervously ogling a waitress in a Portland eatery, and his extremely tense behavior back home, where a slightly ajar door down a hallway conceals an intensely lit room. Mason has been given a job in sales at an auto insurance company run by his only friend, Berkeley (Zachary Levi), although the would-be artist’s barely-there social skills make him highly unlikely for the job. Inference that Berkeley is doing this out of the goodness of his heart is complicated by Berkeley’s hard-edged, hot-shot manner.

New employee Amber (Amber Tamblyn) is struggling to get a handle on her job at the company, and seems to find common ground with Mason. Talking to him is at first like pulling teeth, but as the aud’s surrogate, she discovers he’s a talented portrait artist. Perhaps, first impressions of Mason aren’t as simple as they appeared.

Gradually, though, the pair’s seemingly fecund friendship, which develops into her posing for him, unravels. Pic offers a momentarily strong slice of psycho cinema to the degree that an intimate camera and heavily designed soundtrack suggest what it’s like to be inside Mason’s rattled head.

But the film toys with audience expectations and perceptions by playing fast and loose with circumstances and clues, while leading to an almost unavoidable and dismayingly obvious conclusion.

Given the sheer weirdness of his character’s neuroses, Moore the actor tries to tamp down the urge for an over-the-top perf, and his efforts make it clear why Moore the director needed co-helmer Green. Tamblyn brings tenderness to her role — so strikingly different from her knockout perf last year in “Stephanie Daley” — of a young woman trying to genuinely connect with an alienated human being.

Lenser Will Barratt gets the essence of a rainy and glum Portland, Ore., that the pic’s makers seem to know in their bones, while sound editing and mixing are standout technical elements.

Spiral

Production

A Coattails Entertainment/ArieScope Picture. Produced by Cory Neal, Jeremy Danial Boreing. Executive producers, Jim Sowell, Zachary Levi, Rachelle Ryan, Joel David Moore. Co-producers, David Muller, Kurt Schemper. Directed by Adam Green, Joel David Moore. Screenplay, Jeremy Danial Boreing, Moore.

Crew

Camera ( color, HD DV), Will Barratt; editor, Cory Livingston; music, Todd Caldwell, Michael "Fish" Herring; production designer, Travis Nicholas Zariwny; art director, Tyler B. Robinson; costume designer, Michelle Sandvig; sound, Jesse Nordhausen; supervising sound editor, Jane Boegel; re-recording mixers, Joe Barnett, Mathew Waters; visual effects supervisor, Tyler A. Hawes; special effects coordinator, Jerry Buxbaum; visual effects, Bellomage; line producer, Michael D. Jones; assistant director, Craig Borden; second unit camera, C. Clifford Jones. Reviewed at Santa Barbara Film Festival, Feb. 3, 2007. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Joel David Moore, Zachary Levi, Amber Tamblyn, Tricia Helfer, Annie Neal, David Muller, Ryan Chase, Lori Yule.

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