Spell is a bit of a mixed bag, as it has solid production value, a director who succeeds in visually capturing the film the way it should be, and a great cast who all really deliver in their respective roles; however, it also suffers from a story that just doesn’t seem clear in what it’s trying to say and because of this the whole film inevitably suffers.
The story begins with our protagonist, Marquis T. Woods (Omari Hardwick), who is looking at scars that cover his body from beatings his father gave him when he was a kid. Marquis is a lawyer, which isn’t an overly important or dwelled upon part of the film and is more or less there to show that Marquis is someone who can go for the jugular when needed, but prefers to settle things through words over getting his hands dirty whenever possible. It’s also there to show that he and his family are on the wealthier side of society compared to how Marquis grew up.
Marquis receives a call at work from a lawyer who informs him that his father has died and that he’s the next of kin, thus why he’s being contacted. Now Marquis left his abusive upbringing at a young age, so his wife pushing him (well less pushing and more flat out telling) that they’re all going to go back to his childhood home so he can get closure. Now, I mean, the movie has to start some way, so I do get that this makes some sense; however, Marquis seems like he was legitimately traumatized growing up, so much so that he’s promised that his life and the life he makes for his kids will not replicate it in the slightest, so I feel like he’s already got his closure and he’d be more apt to just take care of this through other means and continue on with his life.
But, like I said, the movie needs to have an inciting incident, and this is it. So they get into their small, personal plane that Marquis pilots and fly to rural Appalachia where Marquis grew up. A storm, however, takes the plane down as they approach their destination and Marquis awakens in an unknown house, his foot bandaged and so injured that he can barely stand on it. Before he can figure things out on his own, Eloise (Loretta Devine) walks into the room, chastising him for being out of bed. She calls her husband, Earl (John Beasley), to come help her, but he’s old and has heart problems, so he calls up Lewis (Steve Mululu), a giant, beastly man who doesn’t talk but quickly throws Marquis over his shoulder and places him back down in the bed.
Marquis is confused and wants to know if his family is safe, but Eloise tells him to just rest and blows some dust into his face which knocks him out. So I skipped over a part where Marquis and his family stop for gas and we learn that people in the area study and believe in Hoodoo, so it’s fairly clear that this woman is a practitioner of the belief and that is confirmed quickly when she creates a Boogity of Marquis and tells him it’ll help heal him.
A Boogity is a Hoodoo figure made from blood, skin and various other pieces of the person it’s supposed to represent. I’m sure most are more acquainted with voodoo dolls, and would understand that if you poke a voodoo doll that the person it’s tied to will also feel that pain. I don’t know much about Hoodoo outside of what I’ve learned from this movie, but it seems that whatever happens to the Boogity will either help or hurt the person it represents. So if you pull out the Boogity’s tongue, the person will no longer be able to speak until its put back.
Basically, Eloise tells Marquis that he needs to get healed up before the blood moon in a few days and that’s when he’ll be reunited with his family, she can feel it. That’s not good enough for Marquis, as he wants to call an ambulance and begin a search party for his family, though Eloise says they don’t have a phone and there’s no hospital within 200 miles of their home. So Marquis does what anyone being held against their will by a woman who practices dark magic would do and he begins trying to figure out a way to escape and find his family before Eloise can do whatever it is she’s planning when the blood moon rises.
So, as mentioned at the start, the premise is there and the movie looks really good; however, there’s just not enough here to allow the film to be elevated to the heights that it had the potential to get to. It’s just entertaining enough to hook you in one of the worst ways a movie can be, as it’s intriguing and has potential throughout the first and most of the second act, and then it begins to crumble under its own weight leading into the third and final act before collapsing completely.
There are a number of loose ends that just never play into things the way they should. Elouise ends up with a jar of Marquis’ semen, which is never explained. I thought that’s what it was when I saw her sneakily swipe it from his bedside, but then I wrote it off because why would a jar of his semen randomly just be there? If she got it from him while he was unconscious then wouldn’t she have just taken it before he woke up? Why leave it as his bedside? And why didn’t he seem more disturbed when he eventually realizes that’s what it was? It’s just glazed over while he pieces some things together and it’s just really bizarre.
Also, Marquis’ father grew up in the area and apparently believed in hoodoo and magics, but it’s not like Marquis gained anything from that. While they constantly transition between days by having Marquis awake from nightmares of his father screaming at him, it never feels like anything is learned from these dreams. We know Marquis really doesn’t want to end up like his father, and so it’s possible that these nightmares are just him realizing that he’s going to have to reach into a darker place if he wants to survive; however, that’s just human survival. Marquis being beaten as a child and not wanting to be that way towards his own children is different than having to potentially get violent in a live or die scenario.
Some other complaints I have I can’t get into without spoiling the movie, and I don’t want to do that. Without spoilers, I will just say that the third act is a complete mess and even with the other issues I have with the story, there’s no real excuse for the third act being as poorly handled as it is. I checked the deleted scenes (there are a dozen or so of them) to see if it would help piece it together and one of them does. There’s a 55 second deleted scene that would’ve actually helped things greatly in terms of clearing up one major issue that sees a character basically teleporting from one area to another and upon his return, a number of other characters have disappeared and we have no idea where they’ve gone. Heck, we don’t even know how the character teleported out of this initial area in the first place, let alone returned to the other people being gone.
But this 55 second scene at least clears it up somewhat, explaining where they went (we’ll ignore how long it would’ve taken them to get there and back because that will never be logical while everything else is going down) and how they got back, as well as where the other characters go, yet for some unknown reason this scene was cut. I was watching the movie and was just trying to figure out what was happening, because none of it was clear, and to see this scene – which is less than a minute – cut out just baffles me. It wouldn’t have saved the third act, but I at least wouldn’t have been scratching my head as to how and why things were happening. I can’t believe that this 55 second scene was make or break for the studio and it simply had to be cut for time. It falling to the cutting room floor is just a plain mistake.
In the end, Spell is a movie that some will enjoy more than others because it does a good job at building a strong atmosphere and eerie setting, and sometimes that’s enough for people looking for a creepy movie to watch. What’s so unfortunate about Spell is that it’s a missed opportunity to give that atmosphere and setting an equally strong and well-crafted story. The one thing that Spell brings to the table that’s somewhat unique was the hoodoo angle, and even though it’s one of the main aspects of the film, it still feels like it wasn’t explored enough. In the end, Spell was a movie that felt like it had solid potential in the first half that it simply didn’t deliver upon in the second.
Blu-ray Video and Audio Review:
Spell looks really good in this Blu-ray release, which isn’t overly surprising given that it was supposed to originally have a theatrical release in 2020. The cinematic visual presentation shines through and remains one of the high points of the film as a whole. There are a solid amount of scenes that take place at night or in darker settings, yet everything remains sharps and visually appealing, with no muddying in the blacks or distracting scenes that detract from the film. The audio also comes through clearly, with the dialogue, score and effects all working in harmony to deliver a pleasant horror film audio experience.
Deleted Scenes – There’s 27 minutes’ worth of deleted scenes to be found on the disc (which makes up for the majority of the advertised “Over an hour of special features”) and most of them being cut makes sense, as there’s some that really just draw things out meaninglessly. That said, there are a few in here that the film would’ve benefited from keeping in (especially the one mentioned in my review) and if the idea was for them to get it close to 90-minutes for a theatrical run…I still can’t understand why that 55-second clip was cut. It should’ve been put back in for the Blu-ray release, but honestly, it should’ve never been cut in the first place.
The Nightmare Spell – This is a 3-minute short film type experience of what Marquis is going through in his nightmares? It’s interesting and well done, but it again just shows that there was more that could’ve been done with the film over just sticking to the basics.
Rootwork: Conjuring Spell – This is an 18-minute behind-the-scenes feature which is pretty solid overall. It covers the usual cast, shooting, locations, etc. It shows that quite a bit went into the film, and again, it just makes the decisions made for the jarring third act seem all the more bizarre, as clearly there was a lot that went into this and it’s something that should’ve been noticed.
The Art of Hoodoo – This feature is just under 13-minutes in length and talks to the film’s production designer about their research into hoodoo and how they decided upon the choices made in the film.
Paramount Pictures Presents Spell. Directed by: Mark Tonderai. Written by: Kurt Wimmer. Starring: Omari Hardwick, Loretta Devine, John Beasley, Lorraine Burroughs. Running time: 91 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Jan. 12, 2021
Tags: John Beasley, Loretta Devine, Omari Hardwick, Spell