by Hope Madden
Spell is here to let you know that fear of backwoods folk is not for white people only.
Omari Hardwick is Marquis, an enormously successful corporate lawyer who is not above defending clients against class action lawsuits that would primarily benefit people of color like himself. Why does he do it? Because that’s his job, he’s good at his job, he makes a lot of money, and he worked very hard to get where he is.
How do we know that last bit? Well, nightmares about abuse wake him in the morning, plus he knows how to pick a lock when his wife somehow locks herself in her own bedroom. Marquis came from somewhere he’s not proud of, and now he has to pilot his own airplane with his wife and two teens back to Appalachia to go to his father’s funeral.
Spell is a by-the-numbers backwoods thriller. Our hero has forgotten where he comes from. This film plans to scare him into remembering.
Marquis wakes up all James Caan style in the bedroom of some helpful but controlling woman who wants him just to rest. He does not not want to rest, though. Quite reasonably, he wants to know where his family is, what happened to him, and why Miss Eloise (Loretta Devine) keeps the door to his room locked.
Deep in Appalachia, it seems, you will always find a creepy granny type who conjures a bit, an amiable grampa type who’s not as nice as he seems, and an extra-large, extra quiet Jethro kind of guy in bib overalls.
Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer doesn’t drum up too many surprises there. His screenplay borrows heavily from about a dozen films from Misery to The Skeleton Key to Green Inferno, not to mention every flick where a group stops off at a creepy gas station only to realize they’ve gone too far off the map for their own safety.
Wimmer is white, though, which makes this particular story an unusual one for him. Director Mark Tonderai does not get a screenwriting credit, so I guess we assume that this vernacular sprung from the head of Wimmer. I really hope not. It would be problematic enough coming from a Black writer.
Marquis’s foot, though. For gore hounds and the squeamish looking for a nasty thrill, that foot alone is almost worth it.
Until the third act. I am not one to suggest that ambiguity equals plot holes. I like movies that leave questions unanswered. Unless those questions are: Where did the entire cast of villains go off to, leaving the hero all the time in the world to travel wherever he needs to go in these woods? And why isn’t he even limping?