A still from Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls by Andrew Bowser, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
What makes a movie a cult classic? Is it a film so strange that its baffling nature somehow makes it enjoyable? A movie that knows exactly what it is, complete with a cast giving their very best to some truly absurd material? Or is it some mystical, unknown X-Factor? Andrew Bowser’s Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls shoots for all three of those and ends up being a true cult classic in the making. A baffling watch from start to finish, Onyx the Fortuitous features a dedicated cast all giving deliciously over-the-top performances in service of an absurd, campy narrative. It’s not a total homerun, to be fair. Parts of the movie sag at times and not all of the humor lands as well as you’d hope. On the whole, though, it’s a pretty fun ride.
A Campy Romp
Meet Marcus (Andrew Bowser), better known as Onyx the Fortuitous. By day, he works at a local fast food joint. By night, he’s a devoted follower of famed occultist, Bartok the Great (Jeffrey Combs). One fateful day, Marcus’s life takes a turn for the bizarre as he wins a contest to join a group of Bartok’s followers at his mansion for an ancient demonic ritual. All is not as it seems for Bartok’s followers. Around every corner lies danger, deceit, and a prophecy that might lead to the end of life as we know it. It’s a lot for anyone to take in, but especially for Marcus, who’s just desperate to find someplace he fits in. Maybe, just maybe, that’s exactly what he’ll find – after saving the world, of course.
Onyx the Fortuitous is the kind of movie that charms you as often as it makes you roll your eyes. It’s equal part cringey, heartwarming, scary, and hilarious. As a narrative, it’s somewhat uneven. The plot itself isn’t anything to write home about, playing with well-worn tropes and not necessarily doing anything particularly innovative with them. The pacing is all over the place too, with the film taking ages to properly get going and then frequently stopping for one gag after another, many of which don’t land as well as they could. At its heart, though, Onyx the Fortuitous is a rather heartwarming story about friendship succeeding against all adversities. It’s filled with scenery-chewing performances, campy excess, and delightfully absurd visuals. It’s rarely anything less than fun.
By far the best aspect of this film is its cast. Every member of the cast knows exactly what kind of movie they’re in, and they all commit to the absurdity. There’s Jeffrey Combs as the mustache-twirling Bartok, stealing every single scene he’s in. Olivia Taylor Dudley is as mysterious as she is inviting as Farrah, Bartok’s right-hand underling. Her motives are mysterious, and Dudley plays up that mystery perfectly. Melanie Chandra and Arden Myrin are both delightful as Jesminder and Shelley, respectively. In a way, they’re both polar opposites of each other. Jesminder’s only there because she believes she’s Bartok’s long-lost wife while Shelley is there running away from the grief of losing her family. I wish the movie gave the two of them a bit more to do, but they shine in the screen time they’ve got.
The movie’s at its best, though, when it explores the friendship between T.C. Carson’s Duke, Rivkah Reyes’ Mack, and Andrew Bowser’s Marcus. All three actors share such a warm, cozy chemistry with each other, and their scenes together are where the film comes alive. Reyes and Bowser, especially, play off of each other really nicely. Mack kind of acts as the straight man to some of Marcus’s more absurd quirks, but there’s a warmth to their relationship that’s just so lovely to watch unfold. On his own, Bowser’s Marcus can grow a bit grating. But when paired with the rest of the cast, he’s the kind of lovable character who wears his heart on his sleeve. On the whole, it’s hard not to enjoy spending time with these characters. The cast is just so infectious that it’s easy to get swept up in their joy.
Also worth noting is the films impressive VFX work – a mixture of gnarly practical effects and well-realized CGI. Given Onyx the Fortuitous‘ focus on the occult, you’d expect a fair amount of creature effects, and boy does this movie deliver. There are demons, ghouls, witches, werewolves, and all sorts of otherworldly creatures on display here, and all of them are realized gorgeously. It’s honestly hard to believe how good some of these effects are given how small the budget was – the film’s Kickstarter raised $610,000. Most of the effects hold up quite well, and the ones that don’t only add to the film’s charm. After all, what’s a good cult classic without some memorable, occasionally wonky effects?
Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls isn’t gonna be for everyone. The humor is often hit or miss, the pacing is fairly uneven, and the plot’s nothing new. Put simply, there are moments where the film feels like it’s trying too hard to be the next “Cult Classic.” But when Onyx the Fortuitous works, it works remarkably well. The cast all do an admirable job, delivering some genuinely hilarious, often heartwarming performances in the face of all this absurdity. The production design, too, is impeccable, really leaning into the story’s gothic influences. And all of the effects – just wow! I love seeing what can still be done practically on a modest budget. At the end of the day, Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls is a campy, absurd romp with a heart of gold, and it’s well worth a watch.
Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls had its World Premiere in the Midnight section of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Director: Andrew Bowser
Writer: Andrew Bowser
Narratively, "Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls" is a bit of a mixed bag. The pacing's off, the jokes don't always land, and it feels like it's trying a bit too hard at times. But when it works, it works really well. At its heart, it's an absurd, heartwarming romp about friendship succeeding in the face of adversity.
Part-time writer, part-time theatre nerd, full-time dork.