REVIEW: ‘Spell’ is Misery Meets Texas Chainsaw

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Spell 2020 Paramount Pictures

Spell is a 2020 American horror feature film from Paramount Pictures starring Omari Hardwick, Loretta Devine, and Andre Jacobs. The film is directed by Mark Tonderai (House at the End of the Street) with a screenplay written by Kurt Wimmer, and is produced by Morris Chestnut, Gordon Gray, Brian Wilkins, and Kurt Wimmer. While flying in rural Appalachia to attend his father’s funeral, an intense storm causes Marquis to lose control of the plane carrying himself and his family. Miraculously he survives and soon awakens wounded, alone, and trapped in Ms. Eloise’s attic. Eloise claims she can nurse him back to health with her Hoodoo remedies made from parts of his body and bodily fluids. Unable to call for help, Marquis desperately tries to break free from her dark magic and save his family from a sinister ritual before the rise of the blood moon.

Spell is a horror film through and through. Accompanied by a sinister score, tense moments, and a touch of horrific gory effects. The effects in one scene involving the removal of a 9-inch nail from a foot were so intense that it drove me to cover my eyes and scream. Unfortunately, while it has an intriguing horror story, I am sad to say it did not quite deliver the suspense level that was originally conveyed in the trailer. There were suspenseful and jump-scare moments, but the film seemed to lack some mystery. The reason for this is that the film lacked a certain amount of mystery. The film reveals too much too fast, so it lessens the mystery and suspense behind the story, in my opinion.

Omari Hardawick performs. Not a  stellar performance. Not exactly a terrible one either. Just a performance. In all Hardawick comes off the same way he does in every role he is in. The most notable performance of the entire film comes from Loretta Devine. Opposite of Hardawick, Devine plays the role of an Appalachian Hoodoo cult leader and healer, Ms. Eloise. I have to say this is a role I have never seen Devine before, and I love it for her. Spell allows Devine to show off her acting skills as a villain. I have seen plenty of films with Devine as a nurturing caregiver, a motherly figure, or a wise confidant to the main character. In Spell, Devine shows that she can portray a sinister and threatening just as much as she can excel at any other role. Devine’s ability to act as a loving and welcoming elderly woman in one scene and then switch to a sinister stare or tone of voice makes her performance amazing.

Spell

I appreciate that Spell provides some context and insight into the Hoodoo culture instead of just writing it off as a generic form of witchcraft. Hoodoo is a spiritual tradition that emerged in the southern United States out of a mixture of African practices, Native American influence, and European Christian folk practices. This spiritual practice has a long history of being tied to class struggle, hardship, and looking to one’s ancestors in trying times.

There are various references made to Hoodoo culture throughout the film. Such as healing dolls and cleromancy, the casting of bones, or other small objects to determine outcomes. While I can not say whether Hoodoo culture’s depictions are perfectly accurate, it does provide some context for the audience to differentiate it from other spiritual and supernatural practices.

Spell falls within the subgenre of horror built on the stereotypes of white people that live in the backwoods and or mountainous areas of the south and midwest. Where a traveling family on their way to a destination through some unfortunate circumstances ends up getting lost, kidnapped, and or tortured by said backwoods folk for some horrific ritual. Similar films that fit this genre that come to mind are Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Hills Have Eyes. It is worth noting that I have not seen a film like this done with a predominantly Black cast and uses a spiritual practice rooted in African American culture to tell a horror story.

This film makes for an exciting addition to this subgenre. I would even say that Spell shares elements of films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Misery as it blends in elements reminiscent of both films. In Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you have a  group of people on a trip get captured and must escape from a horrific fate. From Misery, you have a person that gets into an unexpected accident and is seemingly saved by someone who brings them to a remote home with a promise of healing them but instead holds them prisoner. Spell’s uses of these elements make this film such an interesting film and help it fit into this subgenre of horror

The most notable performance of the entire film comes from Loretta Devine. Devine gives excels in this sinister role, and Spell shows off her acting ability as a character that is different from her other work. While Spell has an intriguing premise, it lacks a certain level of mystery, which hinders it from delivering the suspenseful story that was originally conveyed in the trailer. Nonetheless, it is a horror film through and through and fits into this subgenre of horror fairly well.

The spell is available for rent on-demand and in select theaters on October 30, 2020.


Spell
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

While Spell has an intriguing premise, it lacks a certain level of mystery, which hinders it from delivering the suspenseful story that was originally conveyed in the trailer. Nonetheless, it is a horror film through and through and fits into this subgenre of horror fairly well.