[A SPELL TO WARD OFF THE DARKNESS screens Thursday January 29th at 8:30 pm and Sunday February 1st at 8:05 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
Right from its opening shots of a nightime sky reflected in the mirror like waters of a lake, there's no denying the artistry of A SPELL TO WARD OFF THE DARKNESS. Indeed “spell” seems an apt description of this film, as whatever else one can say, it is quite hypnotic and fantastical.
SPELL is broken into three segments linked by the presence of a nameless character played by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. We first find Lowe hanging around the periphery of a commune where other characters do commune-y things, like have deep philosophical discussions while walking around naked. At one point there's a conversation about a sauna circle jerk where everyone had their fingers up someone else's asshole. No, really, I'm not making this up. If nothing else, it's a memorable bit of discourse.
Next our protagonist finds himself living as a hermit in the woods where he walks around, sits in a boat, and does other mundane activities for twenty minutes or so before burning down his cabin and all his possessions. In the final segment, Lowe dons corpse paint to play guitar and vocalize for a Norwegian black metal band. Such a straightforward surface description does little to convey the actual experience of watching the film.
Near as I can gather, the point is to show different ways of coping with the “darkness” of modern life. First by trying to form a utopian alternative society, next by rejecting society altogether and living in solitude, and finally by returning to the world and embracing, even celebrating, its darkness. Then again, I could be wrong and none of it means anything.
Whatever it's about, A SPELL TO WARD OFF THE DARKNESS is a film that challenges and enthralls, infuriates and bores. Is it a profound work of art, or, a few striking images and memorable moments aside, a pretentious waste of time? Frankly I'm still not sure, and trying to distill my feelings into a star rating seems a pointless task. I can't say I liked it, but I'm pretty sure it will stick with me long after other, more easily enjoyable films have long faded from my memory. 2 ½ out of 4 stars.