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John’s Horror Corner: Spell (2020), The Skeleton Key (2005) meets Get Out (2017) with just a sprig of Misery (1990) while casting its own tone and stylish originality.

January 26, 2021

MY CALL: Definitely a contender for best 2020 horror film. Spell’s story and delivery express the DNA of three influencing films admirably while preserving its own tone and stylish originality. MORE MOVIES LIKE Spell: The Skeleton Key (2005) and Get Out (2017).

Still haunted by echoes of his childhood trauma, Marquis (Omari Hardwick; Power) has taken himself far from the home of his youth and far in life. He has exceled professionally, financially, and in building his own family. But upon the passing of his father, Marquis is summoned back to Kentucky to handle the estate.

From our introduction to Marquis’ workplace to family issues at the dinner table, the common cultural theme of race is placed firmly in mind. But soon race matters less, and culture itself and social class conjures conflict as Marquis nears his remote Appalachian origins.

Flying his family in his tiny private jet through a lightning storm, Marquis awakens disoriented and injured in the home of traditional Hoodoo practitioner Eloise (Loretta Devine; Urban Legend, Crash). As rural as rural gets, Eloise has no telephone and no care for money. So keeping him captive against his will poses no challenge out in the woods.

Eloise lives in a microcosm forgotten by time and governed by local mysticism. She is devout in her ways and will not be defied. Her family clearly has plans for Marquis, but only his greatest fears can divine what those plans may be. The more time Marquis spends in her house observing her and hearing her doctrines as gospel, he likewise learns more about her, the house, the local folk of this Appalachian woodsy hamlet, and her deceptions. But what about his family…? What happened to them after the crash?

At times I felt this movie flew too close to the sun. The concepts are amazing and the characters are wonderful, but I often felt some of the scenes and events needed more development. I’ll leave it at that and add that I still really enjoyed it. In fact, despite my nitpicking, this may have been the best horror film of 2020.

To compare this film to two other films I adore: the writing is good but doesn’t quite hold a candle to the recent work of Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us), nor does the atmospheric dread ever match the very high marks of The Skeleton Key (2005). But a page is admirably taken from Peele’s book and well-executed with respect to cultural tension. And in terms of intensity, I have three words for you: the nail scene! Let that notion simmer in your head… I won’t spoil it.

I felt the superstitious mysticism of Hoodoo was played short with respect to The Skeleton Key (2005). But still, it was played well! We had voodoo dolls (Bugatti), divination bones, alchemical powders and magic… and while I may criticize, The Skeleton Key’s(2005) cultivates dread based on superstition and the fear that magic just may actually exist. Whereas Spell weaves heavily its dread based on the terror of perceived magic and the need to somehow overcome it!

I want to be very clear. I liked this film a lot. So when I say it “fell short” of The Skeleton Key (2005) and Get Out (2017) in various respects, it should not be taken as negative criticism. But rather as compliment, that I would compare it to two top notch films I hold so highly. Director Mark Tonderai (The House at the End of the Street) has brought us a very good film! Definitely a contender for best 2020 horror film, our story and delivery express the DNA of three influencing films admirably while preserving its own tone and stylish originality.

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