There are two basic kind of movies out there: those that are solely made for entertainment (read as anything Michael Bay makes) and those designed to make you think. Of course, there are movies that are both, but when you boil it down these two categories are what we got. Most people will argue that thinking IS a form of entertainment, but Trumps recent rise to political power proves that this country isn’t keen on spin them wheels in the ole’ noggin’. I might be in the minority here, but I enjoy when a film maker respects his audience and doesn’t waste screen time spelling everything out for us. Giving the characters room to breathe and fully develop, while allowing the story to unfold organically AND keeping the audience engaged is a tough act to play. Not too many directors are able to pull this off, but writer/director Joel Potrykus gives us just that with The Alchemist Cookbook.
Sean (Ty Hickson) is living a secluded life in the woods living in a run down trailer. Spending his days trying to create gold (out of what exactly is never told) and being stalked by an unseen presence, Sean is living the reclusive dream. All he needs is Doritos, Gatorade and his best-friend Caspar the cat. Sean is more than content with his experiments and such. It doesn’t take long to realize that Sean may not be the most mentally stable human being (hard to believe a guy who lives in a run down trailer and is trying to make gold isn’t the picture of mental health…) and probably needs some help. After a fight with Cortez (Amari Cheaton), Sean’s cousin who delivers supplies and Sean’s (as we learn) much-needed medication, Sean is left without his medication and things go from “kooky guy in the woods” to “Holy Hell! He’s Got A Knife!”
The Alchemist Cookbook is Ty Hickson’s show. Literally. There are two actors in the whole movie (not including the cat) and Amari Cheaton is only in 3 scenes (3 very funny/intense/frightening scenes). A few years back I saw Hickson own in a movie called Gimme the Loot. A wild indie crime flick and for some reason Hickson’s performance stuck in my grey matter. I remember thinking this guy is going to do a lot of cool stuff and man does he. Going almost completely opposite from his character in Gimme the Loot, Hickson is really flexing his acting muscles. The guy has got chops. I don’t remember ever once having an actor make me laugh, frightened and feel complete sympathy for them like Hickson does here. Potrykus script deserves credit too, but without a strong lead this movie would have fell flat on its face.
Potrykus has no intention of spelling things out for the audience. He keeps the pace slow and deliberate and allows certain facts and plot points to reveal themselves organically. This is a device that is used a lot with indie film makers. Sometimes to a fault, but that’s not the case here. Sure, 15 minutes of the run time could have been trimmed off and a few jump scares added to appeal to wider audience, but where’s the fun in that. Letting the movie breathe and reach this tense and unnerving moments (two of which might be the most frightening scenes I’ve seen in a flick in a long time) is well worth the build up. All of this enhance by a sound design that is damn near perfect. So damn raw and jarring. Think of it like the punk rock of movie sound editing (if that makes sense…).
After watching The Alchemist Cookbook I wasn’t sure how I felt (or really what exactly I just watched). After a couple of days of sitting with it I had decided it was a horror movies about a mentally troubled man falling further into insanity. Then I started reading other reviews (from around the internet) and figured out that most people have a different idea of what exactly they saw and I realized that is exactly what Potrykus was going for. Love it or hate it The Alchemist Cookbook is what you put into it. For me The Alchemist Cookbook is the best horror movie of the year with a strong performance from its lead actor, amazing cinematography and a score that sets the tone for the hellish nightmare that Sean is stuck in.