Producers: Gordon Gray, Kurt Wimmer, Morris Chestnut and Brian Wilkins Director: Mark Tonderai Screenplay: Kurt Wimmer Cast: Omari Hardwick, Loretta Devine, John Beasley, Lorraine Burroughs, Hannah Gonera, Kalifa Burton, Steve Mululu, Tumisho Masha, Peter Butler, André Thatcher, Leo Wringer, Tafara Nyatsanza, Doctor Khasu-Kanku and Chris April Distributor: Paramount Pictures
You’ll probably think of Rob Reiner’s film of Stephen King’s “Misery” while you’re watching this horror movie about an injured man trapped in an out-of-the-way house by an obviously off-the-wall woman. Alternately, you might just experience the feeling of being trapped and miserable yourself.
The unfortunate protagonist of Kurt Wimmer’s ostensibly original script is Marquis Woods (Omari Hardwick), a well-off business lawyer who’s called back to his birthplace in the Appalachians when he gets words that his father, an abusive man with strange religious fixations whom he fled to make a new life, has died. His wife Veora (Lorraine Burroughs) informs their teen children Samsara (Hannah Gonera) and Tydon (Kalifa Burton), in whom their father has tried—rather belligerently—to instill values of dignity and respect, that they will all be going to the funeral, despite their protests.
So the family all board Marquis’ private plane for the trip. After a stop at a rural gas station, where Marquis has a strained talk with the grizzled clerk (Leo Wringer) and the kids encounter a mocking local boy ( Tafara Nyatsanza)—and they all are accosted by the down-home sheriff (Tumisho Masha)—they take off on the final leg of their journey.
But they run into a terrible storm and crash. When Marquis awakens, he finds himself in a bed in an attic room—the sewing room, actually–of the rickety house that domineering Eloise (Loretta Devine) shares with her husband Earl (John Beasley) and their hulking man-servant Lewis (Steve Mululu). Eloise, a loud earth-momma type, tells Marquis that his wife and children were nowhere to be found at the crash site.
She also tells him that he needs rest. Fortunately she’s well versed in rustic medicine and spiritual mysticism, and has made a doll representing him, which she calls a boogity, that she places on the windowsill to protect him from evil forces she feels are threatening him. She locks him in, tells him there’s no way of contacting the outside world, and calls on Lewis to make sure he stays put.
He doesn’t of course, and though he hobbles about painfully, literally climbs over rain—drenched tin roofs to discover that Eloise leads a local cult practicing hoodoo rituals and faith healing that involve some very strange practices. Marquis is certain not only that he’s in danger, but that his family is as well. And so he tries to locate the cell phone he’s sure Eloise has hidden away and contact the sheriff for help.
There are lots of close shaves as he avoids detection on his perambulations, and few surprises as he discovers the truth about the dangerous community and aims to foil Eloise’s plans and save himself, his wife and their children. Naturally there’s a final confrontation, complete with hexes, incantations, deaths and a blazing inferno, before the expected family reunion.
“Spell” is utter nonsense, but it does create a mood of backwoods weirdness, thanks to Paula Loos’s ramshackle production design, Jacques Jouffret’s bleached-out, jittery cinematography and Sarah C. Reeves’s hysterical editing, with lots of bizarre montages and kinetic jump-cuts. Ben Onoso’s brooding score adds to the atmosphere.
It also boasts a wildly over-the-top performance from Devine, who certainly shows no distaste for the crude stereotype but dominates the proceedings as easily as Eloise does her followers. Beasley’s amusing, too. Unfortunately everyone else is pretty perfunctory, including Hardwick; he strains and struggles under the direction of Mark Tonderai, who goes to stylistic extremes in an attempt to sustain interest in what is really a very thin plot, but never manages to enliven the one-note character.
There is one genuinely funny line in “Spell,” when Eloise explains to Marquis the rudimentary medical facilities available to treat his injuries by saying, “We don’t have much Obamacare around here!” Otherwise “Spell” is pretty much just a pile of not-so-scary hoodoo hooey.