Review: Halloween release not likely to cast a ‘Spell’ on audiences

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The Los Angeles Times is committed to reviewing new theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries inherent risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the CDC and local health officials. We will continue to note the various ways readers can see each new film, including drive-in theaters in the Southland and VOD/streaming options when available.

Not even thrill-starved movie audiences are likely to be bound by this “Spell.”

Marquis (Omari Hardwick) is a high-powered, big-city lawyer who can pick locks and comes from an abusive home in Appalachia. On learning his long-estranged father has died, he flies his family — he’s also an accomplished bush pilot — back to his old haunts, where there are apparently copious wide, flat, smooth straightaways that will serve for landing strips. They crash and when he wakes up, he’s in the hands of a sweet elderly couple who do Hoodoo (akin to voodoo) and are clearly up to no good.

From there, it’s a main dish of “Misery” with a heaping helping of “Get Out” (sans social commentary) as Marquis tries to escape their clutches in a time-frozen society and find his family before something grisly happens.


Considering that all of that is in the synopsis and trailer, you might surmise there are few surprises to be had. You’d be right. Pretty much the entire film is in the trailer, minus some bloody stuff and plus a noticeably high number of moments that aren’t actually in the final cut.

Omari Hardwicke stars in the Appalachian horror movie “Spell.”

It is refreshing to see a horror movie with an almost entirely Black cast. In the lead, Hardwick is appropriately desperate. Character development isn’t an emphasis; we know what we know about Marquis because it’s necessary for the plot. His captors are generically nice, then generically evil.

The dialogue is marked by shoehorned colloquialisms. The portentous use of music, lighting and extremely shallow focus makes the proceedings feel heavy. It takes a long time to get the plot moving.

What earns “Spell” the most points is that its ending involves an actual plan; Marquis has to think his way out of trouble — though you won’t want to examine the film’s logic too closely, as it unravels pretty much immediately.

If scares are the movie’s raison d’etre, though, it’s hard to imagine “Spell” will frighten anyone but those vulnerable to a few bits of graphic gore.



Rated: R for violence, disturbing/bloody images and language
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 30 at the Mission Tiki Drive-in in Montclair and in general release where theaters are open; also available on premium VOD.