Movie review of “The Alchemist Cookbook”: This smart, urgent suspense horror piece by Joel Potrykus (much better than his last film, “Buzzard”) explores the horrors of uncontrolled mental illness as well as the occult. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
We all know something evil lurks in the woods at night — several kinds of something — and it makes no sense to tempt the stuff of nightmares.
Unless, of course, tempting the unholy is what one has in mind. That’s the case in the utterly arresting “The Alchemist Cookbook,” a chapter-driven series of sketchy scenes powered by a striking, manic performance by lead actor Ty Hickson (“Gimme the Loot”).
Movie Review ★★★
‘The Alchemist Cookbook,’ with Ty Hickson, Amari Cheatom. Written and directed by Joel Potrykus. 82 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Opens Nov. 4 at the Grand Illusion.
So compelling is writer-director Joel Potrykus’ unnerving scenario — with its largely ambiguous tone of horror dramatically offset at times by explicit frights — that a viewer isn’t necessarily bothered by a lack of basic story information about who, what, when, where and why.
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Here’s what is certain. As with one of the more eerie, atmospheric episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” “The Alchemist Cookbook” opens in an unexpected time and place. Sean (Hickson) lives in a battered trailer in the woods. His only companion is a gray cat named Kaspar, and while Sean’s daily routines seem logical (filtering river water, setting animal traps outdoors), there are obvious signs of mental illness in his behavior.
Chief among these is a frenzied effort, using a book of occult spells, to summon a demon. When Sean’s friend Cortez (Amari Cheatom), the only other character in the film, shows up with supplies but has forgotten to bring Sean’s prescription medicine, it’s not hard to guess that an escalating insanity might play a role in what comes next.
There are voices heard and dark figures seen at a distance in a forest thicket — knots of trees visually suggesting the tangled shadows in Sean’s head.
But there are also scenes that go well beyond one’s ability to rationalize such scary things, leading us instead into pure fear. Potrykus, Hickson and Cheatom do a superb job of driving it home.