Alchemy of the Spirit
Dir. Steve Balderson (2022)
An artist awakens to find that his wife died overnight in her sleep. He goes on a metaphysical journey of self-discovery and grief.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
As anyone who has lost a loved one can attest, there is a fundamental need to preserve the memory of those we care about after death. There are healthy ways to accomplish these goals, from creating scrapbooks of pictures to help deal with the loneliness to holding a large funeral where everyone can receive closure by saying their last goodbyes. When artist Oliver (Xander Berkeley) loses his wife, however, he chooses to go about things in a bit more radical fashion. He’s a capital A Artist, so naturally he decides to cover his wife in decoupage and putting her in an ice bath to keep her looking as fresh as possible.
The brilliance of Steve Balderson’s film is that, as great of a setup as this would all be for a more prototypical horror movie, Alchemy of the Spirit instead handles the subject as artistically as its lead, delivering an ethereal film as chock-full of emotion as it is dreamy cinematography. It actually reminds of me Genesis, the short film by Nacho Cerda that was one of the first films that I reviewed for this site. The themes of mourning and grief are seen through the artist’s perspective, becoming another source of beauty instead of a despair-filled feeling of loss. His perspective, along with the phenomenal score by Heather Schmidt, are the meat of the story, a ghostly remnant of one person’s love for another.
The film is more than a little bit pretentious, but it’s also a beautiful representation of love and the profound impact that it has, surpassing death and somehow living on. Alchemy of the Spirit is an art film, and it’s certainly not horror, but it does have enough of the ephemeral to be a fantasy-like film and there are some creepy scenes throughout. The realities of death are presented with few frills, and despite the beauty that Oliver is able to find in his wife’s death, there are horrifying elements as well. Thematically, it matches a lot of the works of the more creative horror auteurs, and the previous comparison to Cerda is spot-on. It’s an emotional film, one that will hit home for much of its audience. It fits somewhere between the popular genres, taking bits and pieces of each to form a whole in the way that a painter uses all the tools at his disposal. It’s visual and audible poetry, and even if the film is not your cup of tea, art should be appreciated wherever you can find it.
Who this movie is for: Indie movie fans, Arthouse movie fans,
Bottom line: To call Alchemy of the Spirit a joy to watch would be an error, but the emotional punches are rarely pulled and the ethereal cinematography fits the films themes perfectly. The acting is fantastic, and if you’re one to enjoy more arthouse cinema, this one is one to look out for. Check it out on Amazon Prime.