Spell brings us on an impromptu journey: after Benny Miller’s fiancée passes away unexpectedly, he gets on a plane to Iceland with no plans in mind. What Benny (Barak Hardley) doesn’t know yet is that the people he will meet have a plan in store for him. He’s ill-prepared for where his journey might take him, but as he realizes that his trip might provide him with the answers he’s looking for, he carries on willingly across the captivating Icelandic landscape.
Benny has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder; his compulsions get him some weird looks in the Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik after he licks a small sculpture of a penis, and it’s clear that he feels shame for not being able to control himself. Moments like this are funny, but Spell prompts us to ask ourselves if we should really be laughing. Benny is really struggling, and Barak Hardley (who also wrote the film) portrays moments like this with a quiet hurt and self-consciousness.
As Benny loses his ability to control his compulsions, he realizes he’s out of his medication. This leads him to self-medicate at a bar, where he meets a group of people including the beautiful Inga (Birna Rún Eiríksdóttir). Everything starts to look up for Benny; he’s on vacation, he’s making cool friends, he’s about to get laid. However, Inga’s got some possibly sinister, and definitely unexpected, plans in mind for him.
Before stopping at the bar, Benny visits the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft. Here, he’s introduced to the story of Loftur, an ancient wizard who was working to craft a spell to resurrect the dead. When Benny’s out with Inga later, she dares him to get a tattoo; he ends up getting Loftur’s rune on his chest. At this point in the film, it’s easy to sense where this is going. Even though some of the plot points may be a bit predictable, there’s no shortage of intrigue and mystique.
Benny’s adventure really begins after he wakes up to realize Inga has left him alone in bed, and she’s taken some weird stuff from him. In an attempt to keep on keepin’ on, he meets up with the local private tour guide Inga and her friends recommended, the curmudgeonly Steindór (Magnús Jónsson). Moments between Benny and Steindór are some of the best and funniest in the film. Benny’s fun and goofy attitude annoys the hell out of Steindór, and it’s really amusing to watch the two of them interact.
Spell is as beautiful as it is suspenseful as Steindór leads Benny on a journey through some truly breathtaking Icelandic landscapes. It’s also as sad as it is darkly comedic; we get quick flashbacks of what happened to Benny’s fiancée Jess (Jackie Tohn). At only 87 minutes long, Spell wastes no time with these flashbacks — we’re only given the minimum information necessary to piece together what happened. We know Benny is devastated by what happened to Jess, but the film doesn’t linger too long on the past. Instead, we’re propelled forward with Benny on this quirky hero’s journey. Between Benny’s grief for his fiancée and his increasing compulsive thoughts, we can’t be sure if Benny is in a mental downward spiral, or if he really is finding the magic spoken of in Icelandic folklore.
Benny’s exploration of his grief and his longing for control over his compulsions amongst Reykjavik, glaciers, and hot springs, is a bittersweet and enjoyable experience. It’s the kind of film that I’ll look back on wistfully, almost wishing it was my own vacation. Maybe a few years from now, I’ll see a traditional Icelandic wool sweater, and think, ‘I wonder how Steindór’s doing?”. Okay, probably not, but this sweet and melancholic story should not be over-looked.
Spell is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
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