*WARNING: This review contains spoilers*
There are movies you can watch once and instantly tell whether or not you liked them. SPELL, in my opinion, isn’t one of those movies. And as I write this review, I can honestly say that I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. I’ll admit, I had to watch SPELL twice before things started to make a little sense.
SPELL is a supernatural horror-thriller directed by Mark Tonderai and starring Omari Hardwick and Loretta Devine. If you saw the trailer, you probably thought it was an all-Black Misery. Admittedly, I did. However, it wasn’t. And, in many ways, I’m glad that it wasn’t a complete rip. In fact, the only similarity is the most obvious one: Marquis is essentially held hostage by crazy people just like Paul Sheldon was in Misery.
Synopsis: While flying to his father’s funeral in rural Appalachia, an intense storm causes Marquis (Omari Hardwick) to lose control of the plane carrying himself and his family. He soon awakens wounded, alone and trapped in Ms. Eloise’s (Loretta Devine) attic. Eloise claims she can nurse him back to health with a hoodoo figure she’s made from his blood and skin. 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 explored two different themes: African spirituality and classism. SPELL, in my humble opinion, focused on the negative connotations or stereotypes about spirituality practices, in this case, Black magic and Hoodoo. I felt that it fed into our ignorant perception of dolls used for harm, sacrifices, and rituals for something harmful or sinister, which isn’t the case. There were instances where rituals were used for good, like helping those with physical impairments. However, they were few and overshadowed, in my opinion, by the overall tone (and Ms. Eloise’s nature).
I got the impression that SPELL wanted to do what Jordan Peele’s Get Out did by artistically exploring themes like race and social class. In fact, I felt social class was an obvious theme. Specifically, SPELL attempted to explore classism within the Black community. This was evident in Marquis’s flashbacks of his father, the entire fuel station scene (e.g, Marquis paying with a large bill, the interactions between the son and the resident), and in the failed getaway scene. However, I didn’t understand what they were trying to say.
That wasn’t the only resemblance to Get Out that I saw. Though the purposes differed, both SPELL and Get Out had rituals used to take something from the protagonist. I understood the basis of the rituals performed in SPELL; however, I didn’t always understand the reason behind it. Why did the son lose his hand? Why was Marquis going to lose his foot if it healed?
Most of my grievances were with the story. Despite watching the movie multiple times, there were some things that still didn’t make sense. Not in a, “maybe this went over your head” way, but more of a, “I don’t know how well this was written” (if I’m being honest). More background on the characters would’ve helped. I created a few scenarios in my head. For instance, was Marquis randomly chosen? Was he one who was able to get away, and targeted for that reason? Did he “forget” where he came from and had to be taught a lesson? To me there was an obvious connection, as evidenced by the last couple of scenes, but what was the connection?
In conclusion, SPELL isn’t a movie you watch just once. Not because it’s that great of a movie or even that great of a story, but because you kind of have to. At least in my opinion, unless you really watch it the first time. To me, the movie was OK; nothing to rave about. The story left a lot to be desired and the characters were so-so; however, I realize that we all have our own interpretation of things.
SPELL is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. Check it out and formulate your own opinion. I can only recommend that you leave your expectations at the door; watch it with a fresh pair of eyes, if you will.