The dark magic of Hoodoo takes center stage in the new horror film Spell, arriving this week on Blu-ray from Paramount.
Directed by Mark Tonderai (House at the End of the Street, Gotham, Lock & Key)) from a script by Kurt Wimmer (Ultraviolet, Salt), the film stars Omari Hardwick (Power) as Marquis Wood, a successful family man who learns early on that his father has passed away, and then embarks on a flight, piloting his small private plane, to take his wife and two teenage kids to the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia for the funeral. A storm hits just as the family is approaching the mountains, the plane goes down, and Marquis wakes up with a severely wounded foot, unable to walk and helpless, in the attic of a woman named Miss Eloise and her husband, who claims the man was found alone at the plane crash site.
Hardwick really carries the film, appearing in pretty much every scene, and his emotional journey from assured and confident to lost and terrified is effectively illustrated in an excellent performance that should earn him leading man status in big budget blockbusters. But this intimate story is the perfect vehicle for him to create a portrait of a man who thought he knew it all but comes to learn that there are truths in this world than cannot be easily explained, and sometimes what you don’t see is nonetheless painfully real.
Loretta Devine (Crash, Black-ish) is magnetic and ultimately terrifying, delivering one of the best performances of her career as the seemingly kind but secretly sinister Miss Eloise. As she explains in an interview within the bonus material, she doesn’t see Eloise as evil, but as an essential healer to her neighbors and loved ones. John Beasley (The Sum of All Fears) plays Eloise’s husband Earl, both obviously hiding secrets that only come to light when Marquis makes a daring escape attempt.
The fact that the primary villains of the film are an elderly couple that would otherwise appear harmless and even fragile only adds an extra surreal level to the horror, which in some ways matches the fog in Marquis’s mind that he’s trying to fully awaken from.
Eloise explains to Marquis that she can nurse him back to health with the Boogity, a Hoodoo figure she has made from his blood and skin, through which good and bad things can be done to him.
Marquis doesn’t believe what Eloise and Earl tell him about not finding his family, as he tries, increasingly more desperately, to outsmart and break free from his captors before a specific ritual they have planned for the night when the blood moon rises.
At first look, Spell will draw easy comparisons to Misery, with an injured man helplessly kept in bed by an outwardly kind older woman who is hiding plenty of deviousness inside, but beyond those immediate similarities, it really is its own beast with an entirely different kind of horror in store.
A quick Google search on the differences between Voodoo and Hoodoo explains that primarily Hoodoo does not have an organized hierarchy or a specific structure associated with religion that Voodoo has. It makes sense then that Miss Eloise sees herself not as a religious leader, but more as a doctor to her community, though she is clearly in charge and perhaps the oldest among her followers, having used hundreds of unfortunate victims to rejuvenate herself over the last two centuries.
The Blu-ray includes a Digital code, and a whopping 13 deleted scenes plus an alternate opening and alternate ending. Also included in the bonus features are two behind the scenes featurettes and The Nightmare Spell, a three-minute short in which Miss Eloise recites her full ritual as various images – some from the film and some exclusive to this short – are featured throughout. The 20-minute featurette “Rootwork: Conjuring Spell” looks at the development of the film and its unique subject matter featuring interviews with all of the principal cast members, and “The Art of Hoodoo” is a 13-minute look at the set design and art direction of the film, focusing on the research done to faithfully reproduce even the smallest details and keep the movie grounded in reality.
It’s great to see this too often ignored corner of black magic get the spotlight here, and even more refreshing to see an almost entirely Black cast in a film that really is not about racism at all, but instead focuses on a part of Black history and culture that has rarely been brought to light in cinema and yet is no less authentic and harrowing.
Spell arrives on Blu-ray on Jan. 12 from Paramount Home Entertainment, available via Amazon here.
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