Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the suspense/horror feature THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK by writer/director Joel Potrykus. To best represent the story, I will turn to IMDB for the plot summary:
Suffering from delusions of fortune, a young hermit hides out in the forest hoping to crack an ancient mystery, but pays a price for his mania.
Thanks to an opening with minimal dialogue and only one person on screen, it is made clear right away that this is going to be a performance based film. Even as we wind our way through this feature, we only ever encounter two characters (three if you count the cat) so the weight rests firmly upon their shoulders. Smartly, one character handles the heavier moments while the other keeps us entertained by being a bit more of a loose cannon. Watching these two play-off of each other is quite a lot of fun even before the horror creeps into the picture.
The creepy moments are mostly made up of strange whispers or noises followed by something just out of focus moving in the background. Our lead, who keeps himself pretty isolated, is the only one who sees and hears these things leaving us to question whether or not they actually exist. Further doubt is cast when we find out that he was taking some sort of medication that he has run out of. The guessing game that ensues keeps the tension high throughout the very short runtime allowing for some truly chilling moments.
Not knowing reality from fantasy also gives this a tragic setup. During the first half of the picture, we come to really like our lead. Sure, we meet him during a breakdown, but all he wants is the life he had never had and he keeps himself isolated while he works on achieving his goal. The few interactions he has lend some humanity to his character that draws the audience in despite his obvious flaw. Even he seems to know he is off so he keeps himself away from humanity while he runs his possibly dangerous experiments. When it becomes clear that he is either being hunted by something or has created a creature in his own mind, it makes it all the more heartbreaking to see this person on the edge pushed over into the unknown.
Without giving anything away, I do want to ensure the reader that by the end of the film we do receive confirmation of what exactly is happening. Even before that point, the near constant stream of noises keep the creep factor high enough that it seems like something could jump out at any moment. I have to admit, I spent a lot of time scanning the background looking for moving forms among the foliage.
All in all, this is a character based horror feature that works thanks to some great acting and a story tinged with tragedy. Honestly, I could see this working as a stage show since it is such a simply made production that focuses on mood more than making the audience jump. Those who want to see some dynamite performances with a good story to back them up should definitely give this a look.
The Creeping Craig
THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK will have it's Canadian Premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival on July 20th at 7:30pm at the J.A. De Seve Theatre with an encore screening on July 21 at 5:10pm at the J.A. De Seve Theatre.