A man of means travels to a remote area of the country and suffers a horrible accident along the way. When he awakens, he finds himself trapped in a bedroom. A woman with strange habits who refuses to allow him to communicate with the outside world cares for him. Did you assume that I am describing the basic plot of Stephen King’s Misery? If so, you are right but also very wrong. Spell, writer Kurt Wimmer and director Mark Tonderai’s new horror film that hits theaters this Friday, shares a few first act elements in common with the King tale but then diverges into its own frightening wilderness shortly thereafter.
Marquis T. Woods (Omari Hardwick), a successful big-city corporate attorney, learns that his backwoods father has recently passed away. Along with wife Veora (Lorraine Burroughs), daughter Samsara (Hannah Gonera), and son Tydon (Kalifa Burton), Marquis piles into his small private plane and heads for the hills of Appalachia to attend the funeral. A delay in their travels results in the family flying headlong into a severe thunderstorm. The storm, of course, takes down the plane. Soon after, Marquis awakens in the home of an older woman named Eloise (Loretta Devine), who, along with her husband Earl (John Beasley) and gigantic assistant Lewis (Steve Mululu), restrict his movement under the guise of helping him heal. The trio also claims not to know the whereabouts or status of the rest of Marquis’ family.
Without spoiling much more, Eloise and company turn out to be practitioners of traditional Hoodoo. They have much more sinister plans for their new ward than they let on. Marquis pieces their plan together and discovers that he must escape the couple’s clutches before the next blood moon.
Based on the synopsis, horror fans might recognize classic influences that extend well beyond Misery. However, Tonderai—who has also directed episodes of Castle Rock and Locke & Key—pays direct homage to the 1990 King film in a brief Easter egg near the beginning of the second act (if you blink, you’ll miss it, so keep your eyes facing due south). In addition to Misery, Spell owes obvious debts to hillbilly horror movies like Deliverance and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The difference is that those movies featured white inbred rednecks and cannibals preying upon unwary white privileged travelers. Spell, on the other hand, stars an entirely Black cast. It replaces the inbred redneck cannibal trope with a Hoodoo healing cult. The cult’s healing practice is built on poppets, spells, and an array of spare animal and human body parts.
But make no mistake, Spell is much more than just Deliverance plus Misery with a Black cast. The writer exploits the established tropes while maintaining enough mystery to keep the viewer’s interest. There are some twists that an experienced horror audience will expect, but others should surprise you. Wimmer leaves literally no scene to waste. Nearly every moment in the movie, even if it doesn’t seem important at first, becomes important before the credits roll.
In addition to its expert use of suspense, Spell manages its gore and special effects with aplomb. The most impressive effects scenes occur when Marquis (like Paul Sheldon before him) attempts to hide the fact that he has escaped from his room. To accomplish this, he recreates a particularly horrific injury to the heel of his foot.
Overall, Spell is an entertaining and many times edge-of-your-seat way to spend 90 minutes. It’s worth a watch, especially if you’re a fan of its older influences. See the trailer below.