Onyx The Fortuitous And The Talisman Of Souls


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Onyx The Fortuitous And The Talisman Of Souls
"Crucially, there is enough here that doesn’t depend on in-jokes to give it some broader entertainment value." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Nobody familiar with the horror filmmaking and fan community will find it surprising that some films are made expressly with that community in mind. It’s a very forgiving community where budgetary limitations are concerned, and also one which is very supportive of new creative spirits. Andrew Bowser has worked in television in the past and has made an impressive number of shorts, but he really shot to fame thanks to one video skit, Weird Satanist Guy, which went viral on TikTok in 2016. It was through this that the character of Onyx, an ‘amateur Satanist’, first came to prominence. This film is an attempt to transfer his story onto the big screen.

Such attempts are, of course, fraught with dangers. What works very well as a brief concept or a single joke can’t necessarily be supported across a 108 minute narrative. In this case, however, it has been surprisingly successful. It’s packed full of unabashed fan service and had no difficulty winning viewers over at Fantasia. How it will fare more widely is uncertain, but if Onyx’s online fandom comes through, it could be very successful – and crucially, there is enough here that doesn’t depend on in-jokes to give it some broader entertainment value.

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Onyx is not our hero’s given name. He doesn’t come from a hippy family, but has developed his distinctive traits all by himself – under the influence of the internet and, in particular, the online celebrity Satanists he really admires. Raised by his mother Nancy (Barbara Crampton) and stepfather Todd (Ryan Stanger) – whose name will immediately make sense to Terminator 2 and Welcome To The Shadow Zone fans – he has deep insecurities going back to the departure of his biological father (revisited in a flashback which gives Crampton the chance to deliver, with gusto, a classic Re-Animator line). He has no friends and spends his evenings working in fast food joint Marty’s Mean Hut, where he’s bullied by the customers. In context, his adoration of the self-styled Bartok the Great (Jeffrey Combs) makes sense – he’s looking for a father figure. When Bartok selects him to join a select group at his mansion and conduct an actual occult ritual, he jumps at the chance.

You won’t need to be a horror fan to understand that a sheltered, childlike individual like Onyx trusting strange men he meets on the internet is bad news. Bartok is, of course, up to no good, but at least Onyx won’t be alone in trying to deal with that. When he arrives at the house he’s joined by four other chosen ones. The aloof, PVC-clad Jesminder (Melanie Chandra) is convinced that she was Bartok’s wife in a past life. The quirky Shelley (Arden Myrin) is an all-American housewife gone astray. Mr Duke (Terrence ‘TC’ Carson) is a scholarly would-be adept in the vein of Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Mack (Rivkah Reyes) is a non-binary person who shares some of Onyx’s nerdy traits but seems far more clued in about the world and other people. Bartok, meanwhile, has an ally of his own, the mysterious Farrah (Olivia Taylor Dudley), who takes an interest in Onyx but may be a dangerous creature to get close to.

Following the fortunes of these various characters as they try to figure out what’s going on and avoid falling foul of Bartok’s nefarious scheme, the film brings a lot of energy and heart to what, in many ways, feels like a kids’ adventure film. Onyx may wear a fedora but there’s nothing incel-like about him. He’s sweet-natured and respectful towards everybody. In this context, the closest the film gets to a sexual scene is a dream sequence involving floaty white sheets which reveals that Onyx’s attractions are, well, let’s say that he really does spend too much time playing video games. Although there is an element of romance, the primary motivator for the protagonists is friendship and a generalised desire for fairness.

If that’s not what you were expecting in a film about Satanists, don’t worry – there are still a lot of wonderful over the top occult horror trappings in a film which benefits from fantastic production design and an old-fashioned approach to monster-making. The rubber-faced ghouls are a particular delight to behold. The film’s biggest challenge is that, whilst it might be easy to get viewers to laugh at Onyx, it needs us to laugh with him. It just about achieves this, thanks to Bowser’s performance, with the sympathy he receives from Mack and Mr. Duke helping to ground his character. The final scene is pure genre indulgence, but if you’ve borne with that aspect of the film for that long, you’ll probably feel that it has earned it. It aims to leave viewers smiling, and reflects a work which, for all its piggybacking and borrowing, has a good deal of heart which is all its own.

Reviewed on: 07 Aug 2023
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Onyx joins a group of fellow occultists to attend a dark ritual at the mansion of their idol, Bartok. Suspecting Bartok's nefarious intentions, Onyx is suddenly immersed in a world of monsters, mystery, and mayhem.

Director: Andrew Bowser

Writer: Andrew Bowser

Starring: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Jeffrey Combs, Ralph Ineson, Rivkah Reyes, TC Carson

Year: 2023

Country: US

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