Movie Review: ‘Spell’ at the 2018 Los Angeles Film Festival

Barak Hardley wrote and starred in this odd, dark, and fanciful slacker thriller/creepy drama. The movie opens with Benny, a comic illustrator played by Barak, randomly arriving in Reykjavik Iceland. There is an air of confusion about why he’s in Reykjavik, but he exits the airport to check into a local hotel. Once he settles in his room we start to get to know Benny. Benny has OCD and he’s maniacally OCD. This particular form of the disorder has him licking things, like the bathroom faucet. He goes on to lick many, many other things along the way. He needs medication to help him cope. Benny is on a sojourn of sorts after the loss of his fiance, Jess, played by Jackie Tohn. Jess died in a swimming pool–either an accident or a suicide–all the details of her death are muddled, and Benny has been left hanging. He’s looking for an answer.

Iceland is still a place of mystery; it is one of the few places in the west where magic can happen. His journey starts at a bar in Reykjavik while he’s drinking. He befriends a group of Icelanders who really take to him. He ends up by night’s end with Inga, played by Birna Rún Eiríksdóttir where they head off together. Inga had earlier, at the bar, suggested he should take a tour with a special tour guide, who would show Benny the real Iceland. On their late night adventure Benny decided to get a tattoo with Inga’s help. It turns out the tattoo is a special runes tattoo with a cryptic meaning that Inga won’t clearly interpret for Benny, but has ancient Icelandic magical implications. There are a lot of unspoken possibilities to this chance encounter, which will define his future experiences as this adventure develops. After some odd intimacy between the two, Benny awakens to find himself abandoned. He immediately seeks out Steindór, played by Magnús Jónsson. He’s a rough no non-sense character that offers tours of the Icelandic country side.

True to form, Steindór offers Benny an uncensored tour of the unedited, rugged Iceland steeped in edginess and a brutality that is uncommon in commercial tours. There’s lot of dramatic scenery and we are introduced to the cryptic messages of ancient Icelandic traditions and mythology. Steindór is not the gentle type; he’s manly and brisk is his demeanor, and this really chafes Benny in every imaginable way. You can’t say they are becoming friends as the story advances. Their relationship dramatically changes after a terse exchange in a rugged hot spring in the middle of nowhere. Things turn for the worst for Benny. He instantly finds himself on his own and with an unexpected mission that will unquestionably change his life for ever.

The remainder of the story revolves around this journey. His sojourn is directed by the ancient Icelandic ruins that inhabit the rugged landscape, and these markers direct his life for the rest of the movie. His journey from this point turns particularly creepy, symbolic and hallucinatory, in a Kubrickian way, as the audience and Benny try to wrap their heads around its meaning. Jess returns once again in an episodic way, more fleshed out, yet still ephemeral and completely tragic. The movie ends in such a way that Benny is both lost and found, as he dissolves in the haze of oblivion from his adventure. Spell makes for an uneasy and interesting ride.

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Billy Bennight

About Billy Bennight

Billy Bennight is a writer, photographer and wardrobe stylist with expertise and years of experience in these disciplines. His musical youth started as a Punk Rocker and has expanded into exploring many genres of music, with an keen interest in art, fashion, photography and writing. He shoots celebrity events and red carpets for The Photo Access and ZUMA Press. He is a member of the Los Angeles Art Association. His images have been published in The Los Angeles Times, People Magazine, Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair. He's very engaged in life. You can follow him on his Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/billybennightartist and on Instagram and Twitter @billybennight
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