You can’t say you weren’t warned. This collaboration between British artist Ben Rivers and US director Ben Russell opens with a sloooooow seven minute pan across a Nordic lake at dawn (or dusk) before it pans back and is about to do it again before fading to black. In a way it’s Rivers and Russell filtering out those with little patience, who are waiting for a story of sorts, and be left with an audience that likes to wallow in the sounds and sights of nature. This is a free-wheeling, loose atmospheric film that wants to just be.
Even at that, however, patience is tried. And then pushed. And then it feels Rivers and Russell are giving the middle finger to whoever is left sitting in their seat. Slow Cinema can be mesmerising - Tom Collins’ Silence being a prime example - but this is just dull and lifeless, which is a shame because it started out like it could be something.
The opening scenes of an Estonian commune have a simple, gentle peace to them and it initially looks like A Spell… is about ducking out of the rat race for two hours and chilling. One man reclines on the grass, eyes shut, licking an ice cream. A couple drift into afternoon sleep while their baby snoozes on dad’s chest. What about lunch, she wonders. Lunch? Lunch can wait. Ah, this is nice.
But then the directors switch to some dude talking in broken English about an experience in a sauna where he and others ended putting their fingers in another’s anus. And on he goes about this. And on. And on. The film then finds Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (who goes by the moniker Lichens) and spends large chunks watching the eclectic musician walk about the wilderness, fish, look at the fire, fish and walk about the wilderness. He’s then on stage for a thirty minute segment with black metal’s Twilight (if that is them - it’s impossible to tell one band/song apart from another) and it’s this lengthy portion, where the band are allowed a short set to display their wares, that makes A Spell… just as guilty for plugging a product as Sex Tape is.
There. Possibly the only review you’ll read that finds comparisons with between this frustrating anti-narrative puzzlement and that big budget shameless sex comedy. A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness will only appeal to those who don’t a story and who have a terrible taste in music