The Spell

The Spell


Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

Any film which deals with a vulnerable young heroine possessed by a demonic entity is bound to invite comparisons with one of the all-time great horror movies – and to say that Carey Jones’ effort falls short of being a British version of The Exorcist is putting it mildly.

Taking promising subject matter (based on a true story) he renders a potentially suspenseful and involving scenario flat, tedious and often unintentionally hilarious. Every cliché of the black magic genre is trotted out – ‘sinister’ music, robed figures in the woods, objects mysteriously levitating, scary disembodied voices – but little of it manages to generate any tension or atmosphere of evil.

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If he’d decided to make a tongue-in-cheek romp this all might have had an element of camp fun about it. But he obviously takes the story very seriously. Fair enough, and the contrast between the everyday setting (the suburbs and council estates of Leeds) and the paranormal events could have made for an effectively unsettling and low-key shocker; one of the strengths of The Exorcist was the accumulation of background detail that helped the audience identify with Regan and her mother as people and made the subsequent events all the more horrific. But this story unfolds in such a tedious, disjointed manner that it’s hard to care about any of the characters. After an opening straight out of Carry On Screaming (complete with gratuitous nudity) we’re introduced to Jenny (Rebecca Pitkin) a troubled, wayward teenager being admitted to a mental hospital – and recoiling in horror from her room, convinced that ‘they’ are in there.

A series of interviews with a psychiatrist reveal her life in flashback – constantly shuttled between her separated parents, she feels unwanted and unloved. Thrown out by her mother when she catches her in bed with boyfriend Rick (Pietro Herrera), she is given a council flat and Rick moves in with her. But his baggage includes ex-girlfriend Kate (Laura O’Donoughue), an insanely jealous apprentice witch – you can tell she’s into the dark arts because she wears goth eyeshadow and a long black skirt. When Jenny has a fling with Ed (Steve Smith), another black magic devotee with perhaps the least impressive satanic altar I’ve ever seen, Rick decides to use a spell to win her back. But Kate has her own agenda...

All this might have worked if Carey Jones (who as writer and director must take the lion’s share of the blame) had managed to build any momentum, or tension, or sense of a harmless flirtation with the paranormal spiralling out of control. But he seems to have no idea of the basics of cinematic storytelling: scenes either end too abruptly or drag on way beyond their natural life; characters appear without introduction or disappear without explanation. The dialogue is unconvincing and the performances wooden. None of the characters are particularly likeable – Jenny comes across less as a troubled victim and more as a whiny attention seeker – and the budget limitations are painfully obvious.

There are a couple of genuinely scary moments and, as Jenny’s best mates, Julia Curle and Amber Hodgkiss (a Grange Hill regular from a few years back) convey reasonably well the intensities of friendship between girls on the cusp of adulthood, and the fear and confusion as they realise just how much trouble Jenny is in. But, all in all, this is a real misfire that ends up looking like a cross between a below-par Hammer House Of Horror episode and one of the ‘scary’ photo stories from Jackie. The eternal struggle between good and evil has never seemed quite so dull.

Reviewed on: 29 Sep 2009
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A young girl from a broken home becomes involved in black magic, with sinister results.
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Director: Owen Carey Jones

Writer: Owen Carey Jones

Starring: Rebecca Pitkin, Pietro Herrera, Julia Curle, Amber Hodgkiss, Laura O’Donoughue

Year: 2009

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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