Marquis T Woods has it all; material wealth, a beautiful and loving family, a successful career, the respect of his clients and a pilot’s licence. So if you want to shake things up, what do you get the big shot lawyer who has everything?
A plane crash in rural Appalachia and a short stay in the Airbnb from hell.
Marquis T Woods (Omari Hardwick) worked hard to escape the demons of his past and had no intention of ever looking back. But when he is summoned to his childhood home by the death of his father, his supportive wife Veora (Lorraine Burroughs) convinces him that saying goodbye and putting the abuse of his past to rest is the right thing to do.
Marquis T Woods (calling our lead by his full name is a weird quirk of this film) loads up his Cessna with Veora, their high-end luggage and their lowkey entitled teens. The kids are over Appalachia after a 5-minute refuel at a remote gas station gives them a bit too much local flavour for their big-city palates and Marquis T Woods concurs…
Initially, Eloise (Loretta Devine) and Earl (John Beasley) appear to be good samaritans. At least that’s how they appear from Marquis’ disorientated perspective. He wakes in the attic bedroom at their farmhouse, wounds treated, to find his rescuers eager to help him heal. It’s a shame they don’t have a phone and they’re a bit reluctant to answer his questions but they did take him in.
What a pity he can’t get out.
There is nothing original about Spell. It’s a cut and paste of a dozen different “Strange things happen in them there hills” stories crudely fastened to the framework of Misery with the same nail that prolongs Marquis T Woods’s hobble. Those good Samaritans have dark hearts and even darker intentions towards their guest. The animal sacrifices he witnesses are only the start.
Seemingly, Mark Tonderai and his able but mismatched cast failed to agree on a universal tone at the table-read resulting in a really peculiar mix of performances which make it impossible to get lost in the story. Loretta Devine jumps in with both feet to become unpredictable but wildly entertaining hoodoo-practitioner and hostess with the mostest disturbing dinners, Eloise.
Omari Hardwick’s Marquis exists in an entirely different version of Spell; one that is played totally straight. Hardwick is restrained when he expresses Marquis’ emotional and physical pain, allowing the constraints of the precarious situation he is in to bind him as tightly as Eloise binds his Boogity. Unfortunately, this strands the already underwritten supporting cast in limbo.
Marquis’ run of rotten luck abruptly ends when he learns to embrace both the lessons of his past and his inner MacGyver. Sadly this happens right at the end of the film. Your willingness to embrace Spell is likely to end around the same time as ours did; 20 seconds after it becomes clear that a penguin figurine hat tip to Annie Wilkes and Misery will be its highpoint.
The best thing about Spell is that it is a Hollywood movie with a primarily black cast and a black director yet it was not forced into the pigeonhole of being a Black film. And that is to Mark Tonderai’s credit. The worst thing about it is that Kurt Wimmer’s story is breathtakingly unremarkable and the script – a few smart contemporary quips aside – unworthy of the cast.
Sarah C Reeves’ edit really missed a trick. If she’d allowed the lessons of Spell’s hoodoo to inspire her she would have torn out the best bits to build something better and left this film’s poor broken carcass behind.
Spell will be available on digital platforms to rent or Download & Keep from October 30