Movie Review: Alchemy of the Spirit – Steve Balderson’s Gothic Love Story
The best way to explain “Alchemy of the Spirit” is that it is an artistic exploration of death, loss, the supernatural and the fear of the unknown.
In the film, Oliver (played by Xander Berkeley) an old, grey artist wakes up to find that his dear wife who he loves so much has died in her sleep. He struggles with the loss and can’t find an appropriate way to grieve or come to terms with the loss. He is forced on a journey of self-discovery, whilst reflecting and exploring the thing line between reality and fantasy.
When Oliver first discovers that Evelyn (played by Sarah Clarke) is in denial. But even whilst coming to terms with the fact that it has happened we see if trying to preserve her body as though he is trying to save the little remnants of life that are left in her.
Evelyn is seen as a stream of light, possibly representing what’s left of her consciousness. And for the next couple of days, Oliver gets to interact, learn and listen to her. It is hard to let go as they try to reflect and reminisce on their past and the life that they have spent with each other.
Oliver’s agent callsign with a commission job and he decides that he will make a sculpture of his wife. Perhaps to immortalize her. But the process of making the sculpture proves challenging and tumultuous as dealing with and accepting that she has passed. Even with her spirit there to guide him, he can’t seem to fully navigate through that death and dealing with it presents
How do we handle the loss of a loved one? Is there even an appropriate way to grieve in such a situation?
We see Oliver’s struggle and the mental torment that he has to go through. It is almost as though he is lost his mind and it’s the same for the viewer, at least from that perspective. For several of the scenes, you can’t immediately tell what is real and what is fiction of his imagination. But the audience ends up spending a greater part of the film being in Oliver’s mind. It is like he experiences death himself and we are there with him on that journey.
The film majorly feels somewhat like experiencing a dream. Except for this time, it is someone’s dream and you are a part of it it. It feels immersive and sensory. Filmmaker Steve Balderson achieves this using, sound, light and colour. All these are basic elements for a film right? But he uses them in interesting ways that more than simply enhances the storytelling and the look and feel that he is trying to achieve. It feels as magical as it feels surreal and somewhat un-nervy.
You would notice several scenes that are sure to have you feeling uneasy and unsettled. However, it is still difficult for me to place this film under the genre horror.
But this certainly shows that this isn’t a film for everyone. The narrative style isn’t all that clear and direct. You are challenged to be more attentive and someone involved to ensure that you fully understand the film. It might also be even more confusing for some viewers to try to separate what is real from what isn’t as the story progresses. That dark shadows and the trippy sound score could make you feel uninterested in the film if you are not familiar with those kinds of elements for the film.
The film isn’t all just Steve, the art direction, sound and visual effects. Both Xander Berkeley and Sarah Clarke provide nuanced performances that hold all these elements together to make a wholesome film. Xander in particular does more than a decent job at a performance that certainly makes you question what is real and what is fake.
In the end, “Alchemy of the Spirit” is a thought-provoking film. Challenging not just for the makers but for the audience to also digest and interpret. It is artsy and explores the subject of death and life after death in a way that makes you question what is real and what isn’t.
ALCHEMY OF THE SPIRIT (2022) official trailer [yang] from Steve Balderson on Vimeo.
I would score this film 6/10.
‘Alchemy of the Spirit’ is available for streaming on Amazon Prime. Do make sure to check it out if you are in form of something that would live you with a truly unique ‘out-of-world’ experience.