Omari Hardwick as Marquis T. Woods
Loretta Devine as Eloise
Hannah Gonera as Samsara Woods
Lorraine Burroughs as Veora Woods
Kalifa Burton as Tydon Woods
John Beasley as Earl
Tumisho Masha as Sheriff
Steve Mululu as Lewis
Directed by Mark Tonderai; Written by Kurt Wimmer
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The horror genre has explored a number of cultural subgenres over the years but one of the rarely explored yet thoroughly compelling areas is that of hoodoo, the last notable example being the Kate Hudson-starring disappointment The Skeleton Key, but now we’re getting another high-profile effort with the Omari Hardwick and Loretta Devine-led Spell and while it may suffer from some pacing and logical issues, it proves to be the most effective attempt yet.
While flying to his father’s funeral in rural Appalachia, an intense storm causes Marquis (Omari Hardwick) to lose control of the plane carrying him and his family. He awakens wounded, alone and trapped in Ms. Eloise’s (Loretta Devine) attic, who claims she can nurse him back to health with the Boogity, a Hoodoo figure she has made from his blood and skin. Unable to call for help, Marquis desperately tries to outwit and break free from her dark magic and save his family from a sinister ritual before the rise of the blood moon.
The film starts off a little slow, with the characters introduced not really proving to be that compelling, likable or very original, from the teenage son losing interest in sports to the success-hungry dad struggling to be attentive in his family’s lives. Despite this, however, the story establishes a deeper root to the distant nature of Marquis, a past trauma that he’s sought to run from more than embrace and heal from and Hardwick does a great job of tapping into the complex balance of emotions throughout.
Once the plane crashes and Marquis awakes in his rural prison, the tension skyrockets and the story does a phenomenal job of keeping this tension palpable as the audience is left wondering whether Ms. Eloise is truly a good samaritan or is planning something more nefarious, though it may be more obvious than other similar stories such as Misery. The casting of Devine for her first real horror film in 20 years and rare antagonist role was nothing short of divine, as she brings all the warmth needed for audiences to truly enjoy watching the character as well as mask the malice just beneath the surface of her bubbly smile and maternal care.
One of the film’s strongest points is its unique depiction of hoodoo culture, offering just enough backstory on the roots of the folk religion and some of its various traditions to set itself apart from both past representations of the hoodoo and voodoo cultures, namely its central usage of the Boogity figures throughout. More terrifying in concept than a simple voodoo effigy, the production team do a great job at making every figure look incredibly creepy and be used to their full menacing potential.
Despite only running at 90 minutes, the film does suffer a bit of an issue with its pacing as it struggles to find a good balance between a lean pace that delivers all of the thrills at breakneck speeds and a more character-driven chiller. On what feels like too many occasions throughout the film, Marquis appears to be able to escape his situation, especially so early in the film that it begs the question of how he kept taking steps back. The fact he’s able to escape the room he’s held captive in the same day he wakes from surviving the plane crash feels far too soon and far too rushed for the fact we then see him return to his room and plan his next move.
These issues aside, however, Spell still proves to be a fairly well-directed, compellingly tense and culturally unique chiller carried by incredible performances Omari Hardwick and Loretta Devine, establishing itself as arguably the best depiction of hoodoo culture in the horror genre.