Tag Archives: C

SPELL

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

Grade: C-

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.

SYNCHRONIC

Producers: Michael Mendelsohn, David Lawson Jr., Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead   Directors: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead   Screenplay:  Justin Benson   Cast: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Katie Aselton, Ally Ioannides, Ramiz Monsef, Bill Oberst Jr., Betsy Holt, Shane Brady, Matthew Underwood, Carl Palmer and Jean-Pierre Vertus   Distributor:  Well Go USA

Grade: C

Three years ago Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead made an intriguing sci-fi drama called “The Endless,” about two brothers who returned to the cult compound where they’d been raised to find it virtually frozen in time.  A chain of further oddities, including a rope that disappeared into the sky, cluttered the last act, and the low-grade effects hobbled the modestly budgeted effort, but it certainly was a satisfyingly weird, if cheekily puzzling, piece.

Time—or more precisely time travel—is again the linchpin of their new film, which is blessed with better effects and a stronger cast (Benson and Moorhead themselves starred in the earlier film).  But “Synchronic” is less inventive and engaging than “The Endless,” largely because by the close it’s become quite literal and conventional, like a mediocre “Twilight Zone” episiode.   

Anthony Mackie stars as Steve, a paramedic in New Orleans who’s partnered with Dennis (Jamie Dornan).  The story begins when they’re called to a gruesome crime scene, where a man has been killed with an antique sword and the other victims are dazed and uncomprehending.  They’ve all been using a popular new designer drug called Synchronic, which has not yet made the prohibited list.  A prologue has already demonstrated that taking it seems to open up a different world to a user. 

The ensuing nights bring similar scenes, and Steve begins to suspect that the drug has some incredible effects.   His suspicions are confirmed when the inventor of the drug (Ramiz Monsef) shows up to explain—all too explicitly—what it does.  Coincidentally Steve has also just been diagnosed with a brain tumor alongside his pineal gland, which supposedly has some connection to psychic powers.

That leads him to experiment with the drug—which becomes all the more important when Dennis’s daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) disappears while at a Synchronic party.  Steve hopes that by finding out how to use the drug correctly, he’ll be able to travel to the moment in the past to which she was transported, find her and return her to his partner and his wife (Katie Aselton) before the tumor kills him.

“Synchronic” starts promisingly enough, but it doesn’t take long for it to devolve into a fairly silly time-travel yarn, marked by not terribly impressive sequences depicting the various eras to which Steve goes.  In the process it becomes very much Mackie’s movie, and the actor responds with a committed performance to which he occasionally manages to add a touch of humor to the pervasive gloom.  By contrast Dornan is given little to do but act pensive or sad after the first thirty minutes or so, and most of the supporting cast are bland, though there are a few exceptions who overact badly (Monsef as the harried doctor, Jean-Pierre Vertus as a cackling drunk).  And while the effects are more convincing this time around, they’re still not cutting-edge; in fact, the visuals in general—the production design is by Ariel Vida and Moorhead served as cinematographer, while he, Benson and Michael Felker edited—aren’t very evocative, even in the time-travel sequences.  Jimmy LaValle’s score is just average.       

One hopes that “Synchronic” proves a temporary lapse for Benson and Moorhead.  It wants to be mind-bending, but in the end comes across as more mind-numbing.