After the roaring success of “Die Hard” in 1988, there was an onslaught of knockoffs, from “Under Siege” (“Die Hard” on a ship) to “Passenger 57” (“Die Hard” on a plane) to “Speed” (“Die Hard” on a bus) to “Sudden Death” (“Die Hard” in a hockey arena) and the list has continued to grow through the 21st century.
You know what we didn’t really see? We didn’t see a whole bunch of “Misery” ripoffs after the success of the brilliant original in 1990. We didn’t get “Misery” in a luxury hotel, “Misery” in a bed & breakfast, “Misery” in a trailer park, “Misery” at a boarding school, “Misery” at a time share … nothing!
As we continue our string of Fright Week reviews of new movies this week(including “Come Play” and “The Craft: Legacy”), the latest addition is “Spell” — and yep, it’s an unabashed homage to “Misery,” complete with a crash in a remote area; a badly injured man waking up in the bedroom of a stranger’s house; an outwardly cheerful but quite insane maternal caretaker who nurses the man back to health while holding him hostage and keeping him drugged up; a gruesome and crippling sequence that will prevent the victim from walking any time soon, and even a visit from the local county sheriff that goes sideways.
Ah, but here’s the twist: “Spell” is “Misery” in rural Appalachia, with Hoodoo dark magic!
Director Mark Tonderai and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer have cooked up a deliciously twisted little set piece with some truly creepy and grotesquely memorable horror sequences, brought to life by terrific performances from the small ensemble, led by the suitably stoic and grimly determined Omari Hardwick (“Being Mary Jane,” “Power” on Starz) in the James Caan/hostage role, and the invaluable veteran character actress Loretta Devine in the Kathy Bates/villain part.
Hardwick’s Marquis is a sophisticated, successful attorney with a thriving practice, a gorgeously appointed home and a loving family, including his wife Veora (Lorraine Burroughs) and their two children, Samsara (Hannah Gonera) and Tydon (Kalifa Burton). Marquis never talks about his childhood in Appalachia, but the horrific scars on his back and flashback scenes tell us he was brutalized by his father and was given some very dark lessons about a certain way of life. When Marquis learns his estranged father has died, Veora says the family will accompany him to the funeral, as a show of family support.
Big mistake, Veroa. Huge.
They all hop into Marquis’ small plane and take off for the mountains — but a deadly storm swoops in and there’s a terrible crash, and when Marquis wakes up, he’s been seriously injured and he’s in the upstairs bedroom of a remote home in the backwoods country occupied by one Eloise (Loretta Devine) and her husband Earl (the wonderful John Beasley). As for his family: The cheerful, upbeat, ever-smiling Eloise says Marquis was all alone when they found him, and while they’d like to honor his request to call the authorities, they don’t have a phone and the nearest hospital is 50 miles away — so it’s best Marquis just get some rest and ingest Eloise’s homemade remedies, and he’ll eventually be strong enough to leave and find out what happened to his wife and children.
Eventually. Maybe. Possibly never.
As Marquis and Eloise establish the “Misery” dynamic — she fusses over him and dotes on him but keeps him locked in the room, he puts on a grateful front even as he plots his escape — we learn Eloise and Earl and the surrounding community are deeply into dark magic, complete with late-night rituals and a sacrifice timed to the arrival of the “blood moon.” Eloise keeps a box of voodoo dolls that look exactly like their human counterparts, and if she does something like taking the tongue out of a voodoo doll, the actual human will lose the ability to speak.
“Spell” has an appropriately dark and hazy and hallucinogenic look, with rain pouring down in the dead of night as Marquis manages at least temporarily to get free and discovers some shocking and horrific and supernatural truths about what’s really happening. 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.