Spell is a peculiar blend of Misery and Get Out, and that doesn’t mesh as well as you’d hope. Here is another film that features solid acting, but can’t save itself from the dreadful writing. African American representation in horror is always welcomed, but not in a bland manner. Spell wants to be a social commentary and its message is muddled at best. The film finds more success in being tedious and forgettable.
This film was right to land on VOD because no theater should be allowed to show this at any time. It’s mind-boggling how so much potential can be wasted, and with notable actors along for the ride. Spell struggles to garner interest from anything happening on the screen once the central conflict begins. The mishaps in the script are the film’s biggest detractor since every other aspect was adequate. It is directed by Mark Tonderai and written by Kurt Wimmer, not a good sign at all. Spell stars Omari Hardwick, Loretta Devine, Andre Jacobs, Lorraine Burroughs, and John Beasley. In the film, Marquis Woods (Hardwick) travels with his family to Appalachia after his father’s passing, but their plane crashes. Marquis wakes up under the care of Eloise, a hoodoo specialist who won’t let him leave.
Wimmer does little to get audiences interested in Marquis or the predicament he finds himself in. Marquis was raised around very toxic habits, but he made it on his own after running away from home. He hasn’t seen his father in years, struggles to parent his children, so much so that he brushes off his son being bullied. Despite being introduced to Marquis, Spell manages to not spark interest once he is caught up in the hoodoo. The lack of development, combined with us now being thrust into Eloise’s games makes the film dull. Eloise is a firm believer in her African hoodoo and believes black people should respect where they come from. Ultimately, this film ties itself into slavery but does it better than most. Wimmer’s script has a lot going on that wasn’t executed properly, and never gives a reason to care.
Many things don’t quite add up in the end, but that goes back to Marquis being an uninteresting, and underdeveloped protagonist. Still, Hardwick and Devine are having fun with these roles. Devine captures all of Eloise’s traits in the best way possible and eats up every scene. Hardwick does what he can, and while never bad, his performance felt out of place. The character of Marquis came off like it should have been portrayed differently on screen. The actors in Spell make the most of this messy screenplay by serving up solid performances across the board.
Tonderai doesn’t offer much here, every scene feels hollow and meaningless. The moments of Marquis caught in a dire situation aren’t made to feel frightening at all. His saving grace was having two talented stars in the lead throughout the film. The pacing has its highs and lows because of how Spell fails to compel viewers until Marquis has to pull an object out of his foot. However, there is some superb cinematography featured and it compliments the film’s focus on hoodoo practices as well. The color palette choice assists with highlighting Eloise’s insane nature, and it creates a feeling of unease in the area Marquis finds himself in.
Spell stumbles far too much and never developed its characters enough to warrant the third act it offered, which was great. Its message isn’t made clear, but it has to do with slavery and staying true to your roots as a black person. It includes one of the most discomforting gore scenes in recent memory while being a complete trainwreck overall. There’s not much to get out of it, but hopefully, this was the final time hoodoo appears in horror for quite some time.