SPELL (2020) Reviews and overview

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Already available On-Demand, Spell will be released on Blu-ray + Digital and DVD on January 12th 2021. The Blu-ray includes the following bonus content:

Deleted Scenes
The Nightmare Spell
Rootwork: Conjuring Spell
The Art of Hoodoo

Here is our previous coverage of Spell:

‘Evil tales have their roots’
Spell is a 2020 American horror feature film about a wealthy father who miraculously survives a private plane crash in rural Appalachia. Unfortunately, he becomes suspicious of the elderly couple who take him in to nurse him back to health with ancient Hoodoo remedies.

Directed by Mark Tonderai (House at the End of the Street; writer of Day of the Dead: Bloodline) from a screenplay written by Kurt Wimmer, the movie stars Omari Hardwick, Loretta Devine and Andre Jacobs. Produced by Morris Chestnut, Gordon Gray, Brian Wilkins and aforementioned Kurt Wimmer.

While flying a private plane 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 own 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 finale relies heavily on Hoodoo and its possibilities, leading to some shocking events as the couple’s evil scheme is finally revealed. Those are merely a few examples of what the film has in store. Visually, Spell is ominous, and the plot’s occurrences are undeniably horrific. That said, compelling performances are what truly sell the story. Loretta Devine is outstanding as Eloise.” The Aisle Seat

“Understatement is not in Spell‘s nature, as shown by one great, ghoulish visual gag of Marquis removing a nail that deliberately swoops over the line from grisly to gross to wonderfully absurd. This is OTT cinema, and fun because of it.” The Austin Chronicle

“A paper-thin plot without stakes, build, or suspense makes for a lackluster experience. There’s a great idea buried deep within a clunky movie and a few moments of gruesome horror, but mostly Spell inflicts a curse upon its viewer by wasting great potential for intriguing hoodoo horror.” Bloody Disgusting

“The picture eventually abandons a creeping sense of doom as it works toward a conclusion that’s more Fred Williamson than freak-out, but for an extended period of time, the endeavor has some imagination for nasty business, giving viewers a claustrophobic sense of horror involving the deep south and fantasy powers. It’s a shame it doesn’t end there.” Blu-ray.com

Spell has an appropriately dark and hazy and hallucinogenic look […] It’s all delivered with a cool, B-movie style that fits the material, and thanks in large part to the performances of Hardwick and especially Devine, Spell keeps us mesmerized right through the final blaze of violent gory glory.” Chicago Sun-Times

” …after the whole voodoo hocus-pocus kicks in, Spell quickly becomes a repetitive bore that desperately wants to be a Misery-like captive horror thriller with ‘black magic’ twist, but it fails to work as such, as it never manages to generate any suspense, let alone proper scares, despite some freaky and disturbing images in parts…” CineMarvellous!

“Producers probably realized their best shot was to abandon any substantive character arcs or development depth and simply go all-in on a breezy B-movie with factory-made frights at the forefront. That’s precisely what they got Hoodoo gives the underlying idea some uniqueness, even if the story itself is derivative. Acting is fine…” Culture Crypt

Spell had its chance to be interesting but squandered that chance early on by taking its unique take on the Misery formula and doing nothing to change it beyond a superficial level. You can add as many spiritual twists you want to a film, but when everything feels like a cheap comparison of better films that have come before it, it becomes hard to root for the film. Devine delivers an enjoyably droll performance as the film’s great evil…” Elements of Madness

“If Spell doesn’t feel as socially conscious as the first act might lead people to believe the rest of the film is going to be, it certainly makes up for that with lean pacing, detailed claustrophobic spaces, bigger picture ritualistic freakiness, and inspired violence […] The hex is not particularly strong, but sufficient enough for a brisk 90 minutes of scares within an untapped area of the genre.” Flickering Myth

” …there remains something a little uneasy about a white screenwriter delving into a world such as this, one that paints country-living black folk as magic-practicing savages. There’s also a rather predictably primal ending that sullies the interesting work of the first act by telling us that actually no, to be a man one has to embrace violence in order to survive, with a shirtless and bloodied Hardwick striking back with full force.” The Guardian

“The best thing about Spell is that it is a Hollywood movie with a primarily black cast and a black director yet it was not forced into the pigeonhole of being a Black film. And that is to Mark Tonderai’s credit. The worst thing about it is that Kurt Wimmer’s story is breathtakingly unremarkable and the script – a few smart contemporary quips aside – unworthy of the cast.” HeyUGuys

“Heavy on oppressively humid atmosphere and light on originality, the film is a mostly forgettable genre exercise whose viewers won’t miss much by watching at home. Veteran stage, screen and television actress Devine […] is actually the best thing in the film. Playing the alternately menacing and solicitous villain who can render a person immobile simply by blowing magic dust in their face, she brings a hammily enjoyable flair to the proceedings.” The Hollywood Reporter

Spell becomes an insidious allegory creeping into the fold with a little tough love from your parents, in this case father, will go a long way. Spell also rarely pulls any punches with a welcoming cringe of ghastly violations of the human body (that pulling, inserting, and then re-pulling out the spike in the bottom of the foot gag will make you actually gag!) and inside the rustic and isolating confines of Ms. Eloise’s Kentucky farm compound, there’s a rough-hewn atmosphere that elevates the subgenre.” It’s Bloggin’ 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…” Los Angeles Times

“Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer doesn’t drum up too many surprises there. His screenplay borrows heavily from about a dozen films from Misery to The Skeleton Key to Green Inferno, not to mention every flick where a group stops off at a creepy gas station only to realize they’ve gone too far off the map for their own safety […] Marquis’s foot, though. For gorehounds and the squeamish looking for a nasty thrill, that foot alone is almost worth it.” MaddWolf

“As potentially unpleasant as the movie’s depiction of Hoodoo may be, it’s surprising that the filmmakers don’t take more advantage of the supernatural power and influence of this exaggerated and demonic variation of the practice. Certainly, the screenplay holds back on the most fantastical spells, curses, and powers until the third act, which has plenty of problems […] Spell ends up as an oddity. It’s a movie that’s superficially insulting but also too superficial and bland to be too offensive.” Mark Reviews Movies

[Director Mark Tonderai]  “attacks our senses in the hopes we’ll forgive obvious shortcomings, and though Devine is having a blast hamming it up to 11 and stealing the show from Hardwick, who exists in this film to react to her evil wrongdoings, the convoluted ending undercuts an interesting first act with a message that in order to be a man, you must commit acts of violence. That’s not spellbinding, it’s contemptuous.” The Only Critic

“What really makes Spell work as a horror is the acting ability on show, especially from Omari Hardwick as Marquis, Loretta Devine as Eloise, and the rest of the cast […] For the most part, though, Spell works well as an entertaining horror that puts a new spin on the style of story we’ve seen many times in the past. If you are looking for a film that is entertaining, has a few gross-out moments that will have you cringing as you can imagine the pain, then this is for you.” Pissed Off Geek

“There’s never a point, ultimately, at which Eloise’s mistreatment of Hardwick’s character makes a lick of sense and it is, as a result, impossible to work up any real sympathy for the protagonist’s plight, and although certain events within the third act pack a somewhat satisfying punch, Spell has long-since confirmed its place as a frustrating misfire that’s riddled with underwhelming, uninvolving elements.” Reel Film Reviews

Spell is like an over-the-top Black version of Stephen King’s Misery that tries to evoke a Jordan Peele aesthetic but is written on a Tyler Perry level of awful […] The best thing I can say about Spell — outside of the performances by Hardwick/Devine and the fact that it’s barely 90 minutes long — is that it didn’t piss me off as much as Antebellum did. That being said, Spell is still a huge heaping pile of offensive, shallow white Hollywood studio horseshit that I advise Black audiences to avoid.” Rendy Reviews

“I felt that the finale seemed a little bit rushed, a lot happens in a little time, and some scene transitions left me scratching my head a bit with the random places characters were appearing at. The slowly building tension built up over the films run time is diffused with an action-heavy conclusion. Spell is a decent enough horror film, but I wish it had tried to be more of a social commentary than it did.” The Rotting Zombie

“Devine attacks the role with relish and does what she can to elevate it above caricature, but Eloise still feels like a reductive black figure of fear. And the film doesn’t engage with the concept of bringing Marquis back into the environment that once traumatized him; he just becomes a victim again and has to escape again, and there isn’t a single scene suggesting that its lower-class characters are anything but backwards at best and evil at worst.” Rue Morgue

“The film could’ve used either a bit more humor and fantastical fillips throughout to paper over its credibility gaps, or a scarier villainess to, well, be scarier. As it plays out, Spell has scattered tense moments, but the only truly frightening thing here is Marquis discovering the graphically nasty truth of what’s really wrong with his foot. Still, Tonderai […] keeps things on a solidly diverting if unmemorable plane.” Variety

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Spell was released by Paramount theatrically and on VOD on October 30th 2020.

Cast and characters:
Omari Hardwick … Marquis T. Woods
Loretta Devine … Eloise
Lorraine Burroughs … Veora Woods
Hannah Gonera … Samsara Woods
Kalifa Burton … Tydon Woods
John Beasley … Earl
Tumisho Masha … Sheriff
Steve Mululu … Lewis
Peter Butler … Doctor Holt
Andre Jacobs … Wyman Thatcher (as André Jacobs)
Leo Wringer … Elderly Man at Gas Station
Tafara Nyatsanza … Young Man at Gas Station
Doctor Khasu-Nkatlo … Loretta (as Doctor Khasu-Kanku)
Chris April … Julius
Tiffany von Willingh … News Channel Reader
Yule Masiteng … Old Country Hillman
Mandisa Duna … Fleeing Woman
Ri-Karlo Handy … Marquis’s Father
Bodhi Tonderai-Hodges … Young Marquis
Sahara Tonderai-Hodges … Young Marquis

Filming locations:
Cape Town, South Africa

Technical details:
91 minutes
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1

Not to be confused with Brendan Walter’s 2018 Spell or any other number of earlier movies with the same similarly bland generic title.


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