‘Spiral’ and Horror’s Inclusion Moment

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The Hollywood Reporter has the new trailer for the film, and ahead of the premiere of Spiral on Shudder on Sept. 17th, THR also spoke to star Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman (American Horror Story, Drag Race) about the film, his relationship to the genre, and the importance of queer, and Black horror in this moment.

 

What attracted you to Spiral?

Well it was two of my really good friends, John Poliquin and Colin Minihan, who wrote and produced it. I’d worked with them years ago and when I was still modeling I did a couple music videos for them and I’ve always just been so fascinated by the way both of their brains work, and the way they work together so interestingly to bring socially relevant topics to the forefront. When they first brought the script to me it was actually just for me to read over, just to see if I could bring any notes to it. I read it and thought it was fantastic, but one note I said to them was the lead character, Malik, shouldn’t be white. It doesn’t matter if he’s Asian, Hispanic, Black, Indian, or whatever but you could look at this story of trauma and intrigue through intersectionality and give it that much more depth and layers. Within a couple of days they called me in to see if I wanted to do it and I said yes (Laughs.).

You’ve worked on a couple horror projects before. How does Spiral compare in that regards to those experiences?

Grave Encounters was a movie that Colin and John did as well and I did a quick little cameo when I was living in New York, but I was mostly removed from that world. And I did work on American Horror Story, the eighth season. But [Spiral] was just completely different. I think the two are completely incomparable. [American Horror Story] was a major budget project where I was working with Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, and Joan Collins at Fox studios in Los Angeles. And [Spiral] is this low-budget, independent film we shot for 21 days in a row in small-town Alberta, Canada. Energetically and tonally, American Horror Story is dark, but it has a level of camp and humor to it. [Spiral] was much more grounded, real, and more relatable, on a universal level, to the human experience.

Is horror a genre, for you as an actor, that you feel a connection to? Are you a fan?

You know, I haven’t really watched a lot of horror. I’m really, really sensitive. I have siblings who are older than me so growing up I watched horror movies with them and they didn’t sit well with me. They gave me years of nightmares. But in reading this script and finding out they were going to be filming it in small-town Alberta, I realized it was going to be filming about an hour away from where I was raised. I was adopted as a baby and raised by an entirely white family in an entirely white community and I was the other. And that [filming location] brought me back to so much of my childhood, and watching horror films, and feeling unsafe because of the terror tales I was being told. And then going out in the world and feeling unsafe because I was unsafe, because I was the only other and faced an extreme amount of racism and homophobia. That in itself is a horror story. So having the opportunity as an adult to go back to the scene of the crime and explore how the traumatizing effects in a child’s life play out in a grown man’s life was so fascinating. It was beyond horror to me.

Queer horror is often looked at in terms of camp. But considering how serious Spiral looks at queerness, what made now the right time for this story to be told?

We actually filmed this movie two years ago, so the fact that it’s coming out right now really is a perfect time. I think it’s not only social relevant in terms of what’s going on in the world in terms of the Black Lives Matter movement, and police brutality against Black bodies, but the level of awareness from the Caucasian population of the world at large. People who exist within the status quo are beginning to see the nuances of things that have been occurring behind the scenes, and yet right in front of our very eyes for decades and centuries. The fact that this world is built on a foundation of white supremacy is not something that people would be able to identify or acknowledge six months ago. So there’s the fact that now we can have a film like this. A film about a person who really does live at the intersections of otherness, who is Black and queer, who is in a relationship with a white partner, who’s surrounded by white people in all of his experiences, and being gaslit, facing implicit biases and blatant or subtle acts of racism that occur on a daily basis. And when he tries to bring those forward they’re constantly dismissed and minimized. It’s incredibly painful, as I’m sure you know as a person of color. I think that this story is being told now, and the world gets to see it now, people are going to get it in a way that they couldn’t have six months ago.

What are you hoping people take away from watching this?

I’m hoping that people can take away the same lesson that people seem to have taken from Michaela Coel’s latest effort, I May Destroy You, that a single act of trauma can have devastating and lasting effects on a person’s life. It affects how they navigate through the world, how they view every situation in every room they walk into, how they interact with other people. I think this film, like I May Destroy You, humanizes emotions, no matter who you are, where you come from, what your race or gender or sexual orientation may be. It shows that we have far more in common than what separates us.

There’s a moment that we’re having with the horror genre right now when you look at projects like Spiral, Get Out, Us, Lovecraft Country, where marginalized people are finally coming to the forefront. Do you see this as the future of the genre?

I think the genre film world is an entrée for marginalized people to come in and tell our stories as the lead characters and not just the side characters – the best friend or the punchline of the joke. So often we as queer people and people of color, specifically, Black people are resigned to those roles, resigned to play small and never really get the full depth and truth of who we are as human beings explored in film and television. The fact that we are welcomed into the genre world is a tremendous gift. I think it’s an opportunity for us to explore and express the history of trauma as oppressed people. It’s painful as oppressed people to have to constantly have to uproot and relive our trauma in order to humanize ourselves to the status quo. As wonderful as this moment in time is, and the fact that it’s resonating with people, I’m hoping this will lead to a path where we can tell much more uplifting, yet equally true, experiences of marginalized people.

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Spiral will premiere on Shudder on Sept. 17 .

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.



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