Friday, May 20, 2022


These last few years I’ve been fairly aware of all the semi-recent slow-burn psychological horror movies like A Dark Song, The Transfiguration, Saint Maude, Entrance, The Witch, etc, so I’m surprised this underrated 2016 gem never came up until now (courtesy of the criterion channel). The Alchemist Cookbook would actually make for a nice double feature with A Dark Song as both intentionally slowly-paced films have a lot of similar imagery and take a more realistic approach to the idea of black magic and/or casting spells…

The Alchemist Cookbook /
A Dark Song 

The motivation behind using spells & magic is quite different between the two films (A Dark Song is about grief & letting go while The Alchemist Cookbook is more about curiosity & experimentation mixed with mental illness), but  the basic similarities are still there.

In addition to the coincidental visual & thematic similarities to A Dark Song, The Alchemist Cookbook has subconscious ties to everything from early Richard Linklater…

as much as I thought I hated it [SLACKER] it was one of my earliest influences. And now watching it as someone much more educated in my film experience, I understand what he was doing - Joel Potrykus,

Slacker /
The Alchemist Cookbook 

To unexpected sources like The French New Wave and more traditional horror films like The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Some people hate the ending of ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK. I get it. Obviously, it's ripped from 400 Blows (and Body Snatchers remake). I stick by it - Joel Potrykus, twitter

The 400 Blows /
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers /
The Alchemist Cookbook 

I also found some other coincidental visual similarities between The Alchemist Cookbook and other random horror films and psychological thrillers from over the years…

Twin Peaks /
The Alchemist Cookbook 

The Fly /
The Alchemist Cookbook 

Ganja and Hess /
The Alchemist Cookbook 

I know I’m going a bit overboard with the comparisons but the more I read about Potrykus the more I appreciate his wide variety of influences. 

Take these audio/video comparisons below for example:

It doesn’t take much to realize I lift the openings to all my films from Clarke’s Made in Britain and Haneke’s Funny Games. The opening to those films make me want to punch someone in happiness. I want anarchy in character motivations and story structure - Joel Potrykus, rapportoconfidenziale

Or this direct nod to Jim Jarmusch in his feature debut Ape...

Or what I believe to be a reference to Cassavetes’ The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie (right down to the Nightclub setting and both of these scenes taking place at the end of their respective movies) 

His 2018 film Relaxer is a one long loose homage to Bunuel with an opening scene right out of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange...

I’m sure I’m reaching on this one but one specific moment from the movie reminded of Murnau…
Sunrise /
The Alchemist Cookbook

Joel Potrykus is open about the things he borrows from yet none of his films could be called clones of Alan Clarke or Michael Haneke. It’s rare to be able to pull from so many sources yet not come off like a copycat. In my opinion it is possible to wear certain specific influences on your sleeve all while still having your own unique voice/approach and Potrykus is a great recent example of this. 

Influences and visual nods aside, this is still very much it’s own movie…

In The Alchemist Cookbook we follow “Sean” - a recluse with deteriorating mental health living off the grid in a tiny house/caravan experimenting with various potions Igor unknown reasons. Sean is visited by his friend Cortez who brings him supplies, groceries & meds from time to time (it isn’t fully laid out but Potrykus gives little nuggets of information about Sean & Cortez’s relationship prior to the events of the film).

Although Sean is unsuccessful with his spells & experimentations (…at first), he is still haunted by unknown sounds at night. Much like other slow burn horror films in the vein of Entrance (2012), the typical horror elements of the story don’t hit until the final act. Prior to the finale, this is a film about mental illness & isolation with little hints & implications to horror and psychological unease.
Because The Alchemist Cookbook is a film about both mental illness and the supernatural, this is something that can be over-analyzed to death (and it has been). My fascination with this movie is the deliberate transgressive approach (from being a horror movie that holds back on the cheap jumps & scares) to the conscious casting choices of only Black males (this is the kind of independent movie that wouldn’t typically include Black men in the lead).

Even though I’m a Black male viewer and the cast of this movie consists of only two Black male characters - I kept race out of my analysis until reading a quote from Potrykus himself saying he wanted to “take the white people out of the movie”. Once I read that I reassessed everything and I now think The Alchemist Cookbook belongs in an unofficial updated modern Black film canon (even with a White director). A few strides have been made when it comes to the portrayal of Black people and mental health on the big screen (Black men specifically in the case of The Alchemist Cookbook), but it is still kind of a rarity to find what I consider a good film that focuses on these issues. This is certainly of them.

Between the subconscious racial elements to the slow pacing, this isn’t a film for everyone (and I’m pretty sure it was never intended to be for everyone) but it is quite rewarding if you have the patience to stay the course (and to be fair the movie is only 80 minutes).

Thursday, May 12, 2022



I recently joined my good friend Mtume Gant on his Patreon podcast to chat about the current state of modern Black film, twitter, film festivals and so much more. 

This is essentially an extension of the conversations we've have over the last two decades.

Click here or the image above to listen to Part One and make sure to subscribe to his Patreon (click here to join) to listen to the second part of the talk.




I recently joined the gang over at The Criterioncast podcast to discuss announcements for June and other various news.

Click here or the image above to go to the episode.



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