October 30, 2020 Spell (Movie Review)
One of the newest entries into the Black Horror genre, Spell is available on Premium Video-On-Demand and Digital just in time for Halloween beginning on October 30th via Paramount Home Entertainment.
Complete with an an exceptional cast, it is a claustrophobic tale that plays on the ‘city folk at the mercy of Southern maniacs’ with an emphasis on the hoodoo culture that runs deep within the South. Directed by Mark Tonderai (House at the End of the Street 2012, Gotham series), with writing from Kurt Wimmer (Total Recall 2012, Point Break 2015), the suspense in Spell is almost palpable in a Misery-esque sense that heightens the storytelling, adding a sympathetic element to the otherwise seemingly entitled protagonist.
Our protagonist Marquis (Omari Hardwick: Kick-Ass 2010, Power series), is a successful lawyer in the big city. Haunted by the scars of the past, he raises his kids to want for nothing which instills a sense of entitlement within them. However, the past comes back to haunt him as he receives the news of his father’s passing, forcing him to return to his roots. Soon he and his family fly back to his childhood home in rural Appalachia to settle his father’s estate, but they encounter a noticeably unsettling feeling in the air. This is especially the case as they mingle with the locals who suddenly become unwary as they reveal where they are headed.
In fact, the minute they pass over the mountain, there is a darkness that overtakes them and an intense storm appears, causing them to lose control and crash. Soon Marquis awakens in a strange house, injured with no clue of where his family is. The house belongs to Ms. Eloise (Loretta Devine: Crash 2004, Grey’s Anatomy series) who is overly kind façade quickly deteriorates as Marquis tries to get back to his family.
She reveals herself to be a powerful root worker, claiming to have the power to heal him through the use of a doll called a Boogity, made from his blood and skin. The minute it appears, you know no good can come from it. She spouts a mantra about how the more of you that it has, the more like you it becomes, and that if good comes to it, good will also come to you. And if any bad comes to it – well, you can guess how that goes.
The longer he is held captive, the more Ms. Eloise and her family’s sinister ways are revealed. It is at this darkened turning point when Spell moves from a Thriller into a Horror film. In one scene in particular, Marquis escapes and witnesses a revival with the town’s folk led by Eloise. It is here you see just how twisted her methods are – complete with animal sacrifices. It’s a well-crafted scene that emphasizes the danger Marquis faces. He can clearly see that, not only can he not trust anyone around him, but he may be next on the chopping block.
These factors in mind, Spell has its slow moments, but once it kicks into high gear, it is a non-stop ride dragging you along with it. Hardwick and Devine are a true delight as the film’s protagonist and antagonist. Hardwick’s performance as Marquis makes the fear and pain feel very real. In fact, there is a nasty scene that involves his injured foot that will make you visibly shudder and it works so well. On the other side, Devine’s performance is equally masterful as she goes from down-home ‘Good Samaritan’ to bat-shit crazy in a matter of seconds. Her performance is almost comical at times with her over-the-top Southern phrases, but it adds to her charm.
Overall, Spell is a journey from start to finish. Truthfully, it is a modernized Thriller with Horror elements. Rooted in the occult, and with slight body horror, it preys on the fear of the unknown and feeling isolated. A film that both Horror and non-Horror fans can enjoy, Cryptic Rock gives Spell 4 out of 5 stars.