Alchemy of the Spirit (2022) Review
Alchemy of the Spirit begins with an ending. Oliver Black (Xander Berkeley, The Walking Dead, The Dark and the Wicked) wakes to find his wife Evelyn (Sarah Clarke, Twilight, Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2) has died in her sleep. Unsuccessfully trying to deal with her death and desperate to maintain her presence he decides that, rather than report her death, he’ll keep her body on ice.
In the midst of this, he receives a call from his agent Alex (Mink Stole, Pink Flamingos, All About Evil) offering him the kind of commission he could only dream of. Since Evelyn was his muse in life he decides to use her body as the inspiration for his magnum opus. A work that will be guided by her spirit in the five days she has with him before transcending to the next level of existence.
Does that sound like the jumping-off point for a horror film along the lines of Beyond the Darkness, Cool Air or the underrated Decay? Or maybe a dark comedy like Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood? You’ll want to get those thoughts out of your head before you sit down to watch Alchemy of the Spirit because writer/director Steve Balderson (Phone Sex, Hell Town) has gone in an entirely different direction.
Alchemy of the Spirit is an art film with a capital A. It’s a meditation on grief and loss, art and creativity, and the nature of existence beyond this mortal coil. That artsy intent is obvious from the opening shots, with Hanuman Brown-Eagle’s (They Wait in the Dark, Galaxy of Horrors) selectively hazy and blue-filtered cinematography capturing both Oliver’s reactions as well as shots of the trees around the house and forest creatures staring in at him through the windows.
For most of its running time, Alchemy of the Spirit is for all intents and purposes a two-character film. In the first half, there’s the phone conversation with Alex and a message on the answering machine about eggs, but all we see are Oliver and Evelyn’s spirit, we never see her alive even in a flashback. It’s not until the halfway mark when Alex makes a brief appearance that we see another person.
Of course, it’s also quite possible that Oliver is completely alone in the house and is hallucinating everything. We know he’s at least partially lost touch with reality, and the break could easily be a lot worse. Balderson doesn’t indicate either way, although a scene late in the film where Oliver ventures into town may hold a clue.
My major problem, and one I think a lot of viewers may have, is that lack of anything remotely dramatic happening for most of the film. There’s a countdown in the form of a group of stars until Evelyn will be gone but until late in the film that’s it. Alchemy of the Spirit is mostly the two of them interacting and her talking about what her spirit guides tell her. It’s not boring, but the lack of any strong conflict leaves the narrative somewhat less than compelling.
Berkeley and Clarke give performances that help make up for that though. They have great chemistry and work well together, making what could seem like a bunch of New Age woo sound interesting, even to someone like me who is not particularly into metaphysics.
Those who are into concepts more than a narrative story will get the most out of the film. Others may find there’s just too little actually happening to hold their attention. Though it never fully drew me in, the film held my interest and didn’t bore me. Good enough for a one-time watch at least.