Mark Tonderai’s Spell is missing something, and I don’t mean something intangible, I mean actual parts of the film must be missing. I’m convinced of this, and not just based on certain moments from the trailer not making it to the finished product. Plenty of movies have “missing trailer scenes.” Not many movies feel like they’re missing significant chunks of their own story, however. It’s unfortunate, too, because up until the movie’s missing pieces become too apparent to ignore, Spell was working some fine dark magic.
This is a simple, Misery-inspired story infused with the supernatural. A wealthy, successful man suffers a vehicle crash in a remote area (a plane crash in this case) and wakes up in a strange woman’s bed, wounded in a way that inhibits his mobility. Very soon he finds out that the woman doesn’t want him to leave, and that he’s going to die in her care if he doesn’t find a way to escape.
The man here is Marqis, played by Omari Hardwick. The woman is Miss Eloise, played delightfully by Loretta Devine. They make up the primary players of a strong cast that also includes John Beasely. The acting ranges from fine to very good. Hardwick is solidly entertaining, even if some of his dialogue probably weakens how good he could be. Devine is very clearly having a blast and is the best thing about the film, aside from one thing I’ll get to in the next paragraph. Suffice to say that the performances aren’t an issue here.
The direction, as well is good overall. Tonderai does good work with a couple of attempted escape scenes, ratcheting up the tension when Eloise and her crew get suspicious of Marqis possibly being on the move and go to check on him. He also knows how to get the absolute most out of a moment. A scene involving a foot injury made me wince and groan and laugh, and want to avert my eyes even though I couldn’t look away. It was so damn good. It is the signature moment of the film and should be one of the best moments of the year in any horror film, but it probably won’t get as much love as it should because of the film’s critical flaw.
Again, this movie is missing parts of its story. I don’t know if some executive producers got involved and hacked it to pieces, I don’t know if a test screening or focus group is to blame, I don’t know if the culprit is last minute rewrites, I don’t know if we’ll ever see any of the deleted scenes that would make this movie whole, but it is a film with vital pieces ripped right out of it. This becomes all but insurmountable entering the third act, and then continues from there. Some character movements and motivations become nonsensical in a way that can only be explained by parts of the film being absent. This may not bother some people all that much, but by the end I just couldn’t get past it. The movie ends up feeling worse than rushed. It feels incomplete.
Final Verdict: About two-thirds of an entertaining horror film, but it’s clearly had significant parts removed, and can’t survive that butchery.