Directed by Mark Tonderai
Available on digital download
Lawyer Marquis T. Wood and his family crash in their light aircraft on the way to his childhood home in Appalachia to bury his father. Upon awakening, Marquis finds himself alone and injured in the home of strangers who practice ancient hoodoo folk magic. Marquis must summon all his strength if he is to survive and find his family.
From Law Abiding Citizen screenwriter, Kurt Wimmer, SPELL is a horror told through the eyes of a man fighting to escape the scars of his past. He realises that in order to get over his childhood trauma, he must confront and accept his roots. Little does he realise though just how much inner strength, smarts and courage that will take.
The film starts off in the city, showcasing Marquis’ family life, home and work. Here’s a guy who’s worked hard for what he’s got and likes to indulge in fine things. For instance, it’s clear he thinks nothing of spending over $1000 on a bedroom door in his home. This lifestyle is a stark contrast to Appalachia mountains where he ends up. Stuck in a bedroom like James Caan in Misery, Marquis is forced to experience and understand how much community, faith and hoodoo spiritualism means to those around him and how embracing the culture will allow him to move on from the nightmare he finds himself in.
Power‘s Omari Hardwick is absolutely outstanding in his role of lead character, Marquis. He really sucks you into the role he plays and makes you heavily invest in every action he takes. This is true right from the beginning of the film as he convinces his white boss that he is fit for the job and is willing to take down any opposition, even if they share the same skin colour as him. His grit and determination is what powers him through later scenes in the film where the threat of imprisonment and death loom. He particularly shines in a wince-inducing moment involving extracting a very large pin out of his foot. As I sat watching, I could only mimic the profuse sweating and pain shown on his face as we witness it not once, not twice but THREE times. Oh lord.
Whilst the pin extraction may be the only part of the movie that will make you look away from the screen, SPELL is a neat little horror that deals with a man who’s trying to escape his abusive childhood and become something more than what he felt was expected of him. Wherever he turns, he’s accused of turning his back on his culture and fellow black man by not embracing the old way of life. He’s accused of being an Uncle Tom, thinking he’s better than other black folk, however those who seem to be drilling this home are the backwoods residents he finds himself trapped with. Practicing hoodoo medicine and folk magic, even going as far as mutilating animals and people, the traditional folk aren’t exactly model ambassadors for the simple life. However, they do seem to have a community-driven, faith-based approach and shun all that is modern, from technology to motorised vehicles. In contrast, Marquis worships money and material items, he and his kids see themselves as a status above others, and he doesn’t think anything of cursing in front of his rescuers-cum-captors, Eloise and her husband Earl. The back and forth between Loretta Devine’s stern root worker, Eloise, and Hardwick’s modern businessman is a tense affair as two worlds collide and each time you wonder who’ll get the upper hand in the sequence of cat-and-mouse face-offs.
Focusing on hoodoo allows the film to move in directions that we’ve not seen covered much in movies before. This adds an extra layer of mystery and macabre to the film, especially for those viewers, like myself, who aren’t as acquainted with hoodoo, cinematic or otherwise. The hoodoo system conjures up some fantastic visuals that work within the horror element of the movie and are really effective are creeping out the viewer, especially in scenes involving the boogity voodoo doll. However, with hoodoo being a very real spiritual tradition, brought about by oppression and slavery of African-Americans, it does feel a little exploitative the way it’s featured in the film as the character of Eloise has little in the way of redeeming features or action other than wanting to help her blind and mute community, even if she comes across as kind and considerate initially.
Unfortunately, there’s not enough to SPELL to really sink your teeth into despite it being an enjoyable film to watch, even if it’s a little trope heavy. The performances, however, make up for the lack of storytelling depth that will easily please those looking for a soft horror experience.