By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
For many film fans, including myself, Joel Potrykus announced himself with a bang with the feral, lo-fi, and thoroughly bizarre Buzzard, but those in the know have tabbed him as the heir apparent Alex Cox for awhile now.
I know Cox is still alive, but he was last seen doing this, so…
The Alchemist Cookbook is another portrait of a a man (Ty Hickson) with obvious mental issues bursting through his natural charisma. In this film, he pretty much rolls solo in his Breaking Bad trailer out in the woods attempting to synthesize or conjure… something. His buddy (Amari Cheatom) and cat show up on occasion, but otherwise it’s you, him, and the creeping specter of his insanity. Or is that what it is?
Nothing much happens, but it doesn’t much matter. Potrykus is a whiz at creating atmosphere and a creeping sense of unease, then startling us out of it with some genuine strangeness set to the right kind of diegetic soundtrack to keep on your toes. In this case, he goes more supernatural than in Buzzard‘s flight of mind, but it’s no less effective. The unfussy, almost documentary-like shooting and obviously cheap and yet impressively enhanced sound design give the film a Blair Witch Project, or, oddly, The Witch feel at times as you start to buy what he clearly believes before too long.
Hickson clearly isn’t the most experienced actor around, clearly no Jack Nicholson just yet, but this is a great showcase for both him and Cheatom, who have a natural rapport that even tends towards what feels almost like Tyler the Creator comedy at points. There’s an alchemy at work for sure in this film, as despite its modest resources, it’s really supremely engaging from start to finish. The Alchemist Cookbook is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying in ways it really has no business being. It’s glorious.
Okay, it matters a little bit. There isn’t really anything you’d call a plot, and what there is perhaps qualifies as a touch forced in spots.
“My pills. You forgot my pills!”
It also kind of just ends because it has to. There’s a nice 70s-style finale that could have come from Nicolas Roeg, but it doesn’t feel like the film necessarily builds to it.
Joel Potrykus is the Punk Rock filmmaker of the moment, and The Alchemist shows that as much as any of his films even as it takes a detour into effective horror.
The Alchemist Cookbook (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for esoteric-looking science
Take a Drink: whenever Cass or other furry friends make an appearance
Take a Drink: whenever Sean screams into the woods
Take a Drink: for each chapter heading
Take a Drink: for peanut butter
Take a Drink: when shit starts to get weird (mileage will vary)
Do a Shot: for white tuna with a Faygo chaser