‘Spell’ Review: Occult Reprogramming

In “Spell,” Omari Hardwick plays a tenacious, wealthy lawyer named Marquis T. Woods; his boss calls him a “gladiator.” But the boss is also worried that Marquis might go easy on class-action plaintiffs who, like Marquis, are Black. Marquis doesn’t seem to have any misgivings. Then he gets a call: His abusive father has died, compelling him to return with his wife and children to a remote pocket of Appalachia he was thrilled to escape. Superstition rules the area. Even an airstrip gas station sells gear for warding off conjurers.

Marquis’s tiny plane gets caught in a storm. He wakes up injured in an attic bed and is greeted by a woman named Eloise (Loretta Devine), who tells him there’s no phone. With Marquis locked in, she administers a variety of folk treatments, making a doll in his likeness. Does Marquis look down on this sinister hospitality from Eloise and her husband (John Beasley)? Has he forgotten he was raised steeped in superstitions like theirs?

Laden with references to race, class and the legacy of slavery, “Spell,” directed by Mark Tonderai from a script by Kurt Wimmer (a pen on the “Point Break” and “Total Recall” remakes), is stronger on maintaining suspense and a macabre atmosphere than it is at following through on its ideas, which give it a thin veneer of topicality. (“We don’t have much in the way of Obamacare around here,” Eloise tells Marquis, in a line that surely amused somebody.) Depicting an insular community of spell-casters who perform healing tricks with goat eyes and cat parts, the movie walks an uneasy line between critiquing stereotypes and reiterating them.

Spell
Rated R. Feline slaughter. Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes. Rent or buy on iTunes, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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