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Blu-ray Review: Spell

January 12, 2021

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

Mixing elements of a kidnapping thriller with dark Hoodoo magic, Spell is a B-grade horror movie that had the potential to bring something unique to the genre with its almost entirely African-American cast and folklore, but ends up feeling derivative of better films.

Marquis T. Woods (Omari Hardwick) is a big city lawyer who is flying his family to rural Appalachia for his father’s funeral. When a storm hits and the plane crashes, Marquis wakes up in a strange attic belonging to an old lady named Ms. Eloise (Loretta Devine), with his family nowhere to be found.

This is a horror movie after all, so Eloise’s intentions are far from pure, and Marquis quickly discovers that something much more sinister is going on at her family’s farm. Eloise is a Hoodoo practitioner who claims to be able to cure him with the use of a Boogity, an effigy made from his blood and skin. But when he witnesses her family doing archaic animal sacrifices, Marquis realizes that Eloise might have a different use for his body in mind, and he must escape before the blood moon rises and he becomes part of a ritual.

Directed by Mark Tonderai, from a script by Kurt Wimmer, Spell is a film that never really rises above a subpar level. Tonderai does embrace the foreboding Appalachian atmosphere of the story’s setting, and there are a few moments of tension, including the obligatory scenes of Marquis trying to sneak back into the attic before anyone realizes he is gone. But it mostly feels clichéd and unoriginal. The film was shot in South Africa, presumably on a limited budget, and the production itself ranges from feeling moody to looking somewhat cheap.

The film borrows equally from Misery and Get Out, but it lacks the strong characterizations of the former and the sharp social commentary of the latter, and constantly pales in comparison to both. This is also a film that revels in the gross, including a puking scene directed towards the camera and a bit of absurd body horror involving a long nail, with little payoff for having to sit through it. While this might be enough to please some genre enthusiasts, I just wish that it felt like there was more of a point to it.

Hardwick gives an alright performance in the lead, and Devine embraces the campiness of her role in a way that makes her somewhat entertaining to watch as an over the top villain. But they struggle to rise above the movie itself, which feels very derivative and also struck me as kind of stereotyped. It’s a movie that, while not without a few creepy moments, is also somewhat frustrating to watch, and one that I can’t really recommend beyond a rental for curious horror fans.

Special Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray comes with about an hour of bonus material in total. Almost half of this is in the form of deleted scenes, which are followed by three featurettes. A digital copy is also included.

Deleted Scenes (26 minutes, 51 seconds): A total of fifteen moments that were cut from the finished film, including an alternate opening and alternate ending.

The Nightmare Spell (3 minutes, 10 seconds): A brief run through of the film’s backwoods locations, often shown from a first-person perspective.

Rootwork: The Conjuring Spell (17 minutes, 54 seconds): A standard behind the scenes featurette, that features the cast and crew talking about the story, characters, and production of the film.

The Art of Hoodoo (12 minutes, 49 seconds): I expected this to focus on the real life mythology behind the story, but it’s more of an in-depth look at the film’s production design and costume design.

Spell is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 91 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: January 12th, 2021

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