SPELL (2020)

Spell 2020.jpg

Studio:      Paramount Players
Director:    Mark Tonderai
Writer:      Kurt Wimmer
Producer:  Gordon Gray, Kurt Wimmer, Morris Chestnut, Brian Wilkins
Stars:     Omari Hardwick, Loretta Devine, John Beasley, Lorraine Burroughs

Review Score:



Separated from his family following a plane crash, a man finds himself imprisoned by the matriarch of a rural hoodoo cult.



¡°Spell¡± chooses some weird ways to introduce characters who are supposed to be ¡®the good guys.¡¯ In the first two minutes, Marquis gets playful with his wife Veora when she somehow locks herself in a room in their home. Marquis uses the opportunity to pretend he¡¯d rather leave his wife to wait three hours for a locksmith than smash a $1500 door. The movie uses the opportunity to showcase the man¡¯s knack for jimmying things open, a Chekhov¡¯s skill which will no doubt come in handy down the line given where the setup goes.

Just like that, we know Marquis likes to lovingly joke with his wife and he¡¯s resourceful too. You¡¯ve got to love it when a movie hands out two key pieces of information with one blunt moment before some viewers even settle into their seats.

That¡¯s not what¡¯s weird. What is weird is the next scene where Marquis, a black attorney, tells his white businessman boss he has no ethical issues with taking on lawyers in a class action lawsuit even though they represent ¡°his people.¡± Playing hardball to get on the corporate guy¡¯s good side is no problem for Marquis, even if he has to socially sell out to do so.

Wait, are we still supposed to support Marquis now that we know this? Hmmm. Maybe we¡¯re not meant to like him entirely right off the bat. Maybe ¡°Spell¡± wants to put down Point A in a redemption arc where Marquis will understand the errors of his inconsiderate ways by the time he reaches Point Z.

That turns out to be a long wait because, like a footnote about Marquis having been abused by his estranged father as a child, ¡°Spell¡± moves away from thematic tones not long after all of this gets established. After laying this first act foundation, ¡°Spell¡± sort of says, ¡°forget it¡± and pivots onto new property where it just builds with plain suspense instead of employing anything related to subtext.

Before arriving there however, we also meet Marquis and Veora¡¯s children Tydon and Samsara. They¡¯re typical teens. Veora even laments them as ¡°entitled jerks¡± after they intolerantly laugh at backwoods locals on their way through West Virginia to put Marquis¡¯ dead father¡¯s affairs in order in rural Kentucky. Again, if ¡°Spell¡± wants us to be in this family¡¯s corner, the filmmakers choose some pretty peculiar ways to present them.

They never matter much anyway once Marquis¡¯ private plane crashes during a harrowing storm. Marquis recovers to find himself alone and imprisoned inside a remote farmhouse¡¯s attic. Refusing requests for a phone or a doctor, Eloise explains she can nurse her captive guest back to health using unorthodox means. Eloise shows Marquis the ¡°boogity¡± doll she made from his blood, nails, and mud. With this ominous effigy, Eloise can completely control Marquis. Escape won¡¯t be easy. But Marquis will have to find a way out from under Eloise¡¯s magic before her real plan for him comes to fruition.

Eloise¡¯s husband Earl and mute manservant Lewis flank the hoodoo-practicing woman. Like Marquis¡¯ family though, Earl and Lewis are just set dressing. Marquis and Eloise are the only two characters with any distinction. This pretty much sets up ¡°Spell¡± as a voodoo-flavored take on ¡°Misery¡± with Marquis and Eloise matching wits and wills at opposite ends of a tug-o-war.

¡°Spell¡± creates tension two ways. One is with a lot of creeping around where Marquis narrowly avoids getting caught while an audience theoretically squirms in anxious anticipation. Actual squirms come from the film¡¯s second method of manufacturing reactions. Pain-packed sequences of pulling out spikes, jamming them back in, and other instances of bloody bodily harm are meant to make viewers suck in air through clenched teeth.

These tried-and-true tricks fleetingly function in the moment, although they only add up to a bare bones thriller without much else to it. Producers probably realized their best shot was to abandon any substantive character arcs or development depth and simply go all in on a breezy B-movie with factory-made frights at the forefront. That¡¯s precisely what they got.

Honestly, there¡¯s not a whole lot left to say. Hoodoo gives the underlying idea some uniqueness, even if the story itself is derivative. Acting is fine, even though the main role mostly requires Omari Hardwick to grimace, wince, shudder, and sweat. Neither impressive nor unimpressive, ¡°Spell¡± simply ¡°is,¡± not inspiring a strong reaction one way or another.

Review Score: 55