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Monday, 18 January 2021 13:27

AT THE MOVIES: 'Spell' not magical, but avoids stereotypes

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"Spell" is the seventh film in the Paramount Players studio history, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures that was created due to Comedy Central stars Jordan Peele (director of “Get Out” and former star of “Key & Peele”) and Amy Schumer (star of “Trainwreck” and formerly behind the show “Inside Amy Schumer”) moving their talents to work with Universal studios after feeling unwelcome by the former management at Paramount. 

The movie begins with flashbacks of Marquis’s (Omari Hardwick) childhood, as his abusive father torments him. Soon after, we learn he has a wife, Veora (Lorraine Burroughs) and two uninteresting teenagers (Hannah Gonera and Kalifa Burton). When he learns of his father's passing, his family begins a trip in a small airplane towards rural Appalachia to settle his father's affairs. But they hit a storm, crashing the plane in the process. Marquis wakes up in a stranger's home, being greeted by Eloise (Loretta Devine), a mysterious older woman with a seemingly kind demeanor but darker intentions.


What I can absolutely appreciate about “Spell,” possibly more than anything else within the film itself, is the attempt to make a horror film with Black leads that doesn’t lean on using cultural normalities as a signal of quality. The horror genre as a whole is rooted deeply in Black Americans' stories (highlighted in the excellent Shudder documentary “Horror Noire”), for better and for worse, which leads to some films using the inclusion of diverse characters pointless by rooting them deeply in stereotypes. This film does not do this. The race of the film's characters has little effect on the outcome and their actions, which leads to a more normalized diversity in the cast, which I wholly appreciate. 

Unfortunately, this is one of the only things about the movie I found remarkable in any way, shape or form. The rest of the movie is clearly just a mix of copycat moments from other films, “Misery” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” being the most imitated. There is nothing particularly interesting about the story or characters, which is unfortunate considering the talent on-hand. Both Hardwick and Devine play off each other well, playing their respective characters with ease. The unremarkable characters can likely be attributed to either the script or on-set story choices because the actors are all clearly hitting their marks.


While I can’t find any concrete information about the cameras used or the mastering resolution, I can pretty confidently ascertain that it was a 2K master. It is presented in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio on a 1080P Blu-Ray. There is some remarkable clarity in close ups, with perhaps some of the sharpest shots I’ve seen from a non-UHD film in awhile. The cinematography leans more on the stylized side (think Michael Bay’s “Pain & Gain” for color reference) so if you like that creative choice, you’ll like this. It’s very colorful, with very minimal digital noise or artifacts visible. 

Overall, this is not a particularly well-made film but I can appreciate certain aspects, including the well-done Blu-Ray release.

Jordan Lester is a movie reviewer and concert photographer. He lives in Dunn.


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