Fantasia Review: THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK
One of the many wonderful things about covering film festivals is how with every one you attend, you end up discovering new gems. Films which don’t play by the typical Hollywood rules, think outside of the box and offer their viewers fresh and interesting new takes on telling great genre stories. Fantasia is that type of festival and with every year that comes and goes, I tend to walk away excited and rejuvenated, having experienced films that show that if you have an imagination and an enthralling story, then you’ll leave an impression. Past Fantasia films that have left their mark on me, like Nicholas McCarthy’s AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR and Gabriel Carrer’s THE DEMOLISHER are films which became instant favorites of mine.
Joining the ranks of those films, is the Joel Potrykus-helmed demonic possession film, THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK, a film so imaginative and full of laughs and scares, that it’s easily one of the most unique genre films in years. Following Sean (a VERY impressive Ty Hickson, GIMME THE LOOT), a young man adorned with a Minor Threat t-shirt and metal leg brace, THE ALCHEMIST gives you a character that right from the get-go, is experiencing some sort of mania and solitary mental instability. Closed off from the rest of the world, save for his cousin Cortez (an equally impressive Amari Cheatom) who brings him groceries and his meds, Sean lives in a small, run-down trailer in the middle of the woods and is obsessed with attempting his hand at Alchemy in hopes of turning objects into gold and eventually the summoning of a demon with his “Alchemist Cookbook”.
With a simple and effective setup such as that, we’re given quite literally two characters and a cat to follow and while some filmmakers might find it difficult to engage their audiences with such a small amount of people involved, it pay off tremendously with the film. Sean’s grasp on reality and sanity is put to the test when Cortez forgets to bring his medication to the trailer and when he’s left alone, Sean begins to hear voices and sounds, and tempts the devil with his summoning, promising his body and a sacrifice of his teeth. As viewers, we’re not quite sure if what Sean is hearing is actually really happening or if the chemicals in the air are starting to affect the hermit, who listens to hip hop and The Smoking Popes, catches possums in a cage and spends his time throwing boulders into the nearby water, challenging and cursing the devil in an attempt to almost dare him to take Sean up on his offer.
What sets THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK apart from so many genre films is the sincerity and honesty in Hickson and Cheatom’s performances, both actors seem so realistically accurate and genuine in their roles, that you forget that you’re watching two people act, it seems like you’re experiencing real life, but with some genuinely creepy and frightening moments as well. It’s a very funny film, one that features a monologue of how Sean had hoped to get rich and build a mansion in the woods, one that he would have truckloads of Doritos and Gatorade delivered to. Moments of complete insanity provide more than a few laughs, but when the terror kicks in and leads to what is easily one of the most horrifically scary possession moments of all time, Potrykus shows that he’s capable of making one hell of a terrifying film, a film that feels like nothing before it, a completely singular vision and a genre film that horror fans will passionately adore.
If THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK is any indication of how great the Fantasia team is at choosing which films screen at the festival, then this year is going to quite the epic year. It’s a film that will leave you speechless and scare the absolute hell out of you. A truly original genre film, packed with enough chills and laughs to please the most diehard fan.