The Alchemist Cookbook
The Alchemist Cookbook
2016. Directed by Joel Potrykus.
A micro budget indie that defies classification, The Alchemist Cookbook subverts the loner terrorist trope through the trials of an outsider with mental health problems who is terrorized by his personal demons given form.
Sean is a recluse who lives in an abandoned trailer in the middle of the woods. He's visited by his cousin Cortez, who brings him supplies every few weeks, including an unidentified form of medication. Sean's self imposed isolation has lead him to explore black magic through the rigid scriptures of alchemical science. He spends his days in a makeshift laboratory with only his cat, Kaspar to keep him company. As Sean gets closer and closer to unlocking the unholy mysteries of gold transmutation, Cortez forgets Sean's medication on his most recent visit, shattering Sean's minute sense of reality and forcing him into a confrontation with a creature who is either the product of his own designs or merely a manifestation of his increasing madness.
Potrykus's script uses eight acts to impart Sean's odyssey of hysterics. Each act could be a self contained story that focuses on a specific aspect of the insanity on display. Both the use of numbered segments and the catalyst of the lost medication are symbolic of the film's treatise that mental illness is never truly defeated, only structurally managed. Things begin rooted in what Sean believes is science and then transitions to magic, superstition, and self mutilation once medication is no longer a factor. The importance is that neither of Sean's versions of science and magic have any semblance of logic to anyone but himself, thus driving home the brutally tragic message of the film..
Ty Hickson's performance as Sean is purposefully sporadic, summoning an ethos of heartbreak, horror, and obsession whenever required. While a casual glance could mistake Hickson's menacing facial expressions and raspy, demon like screams as melodrama, a careful examination reveals a layered foray into a broken mind, evoked by a brilliant up and coming talent. Using a one room set and only two actors, Potrykus presents Sean's dilemma as having passed the psychological Rubicon and invites the viewer to experience the apocalyptic conclusion. No information is given on Sean's origins aside from cryptic clues hidden throughout the trailer and verbal hints communicated by Amari Cheatom's hilariously profane Cortez.
Adam J. Minnick's cinematography is cautious and stagnant, offsetting the bizarre and erratic behaviors of his subject, while also setting up a handful of genuinely chilling scenes involving the "monster" Potrykus's unique touch imprints every aspect, harnessing the greatest attributes of his previous films and injecting their soiled outrage into the soul of The Alchemist Cookbook. Sean is angry that he's poor and unhinged, but too complacent with his dingy surroundings to invite real change and spends the bulk of his time pursuing fantasies, jumping head first at any opportunity to slide back into the comfortable embrace of madness that most likely drove him from society in the first place. All of the proceedings are laced with a turbulent mix of hip hop and metal, echoing the disgruntled attitude with furious lyrics and chainsaw cadences.
Available now for digital rental, the Alchemist Cookbook is a weird piece of independent cinema that is both uncomfortable in its audacity and chilling in its truthful presentation of the personal horrors of mental illness. Using one location and one actor to tell the bulk of the story, this is 88 minutes of paranoia infused Armageddon. If you're looking for something truly original that will traumatize and bewilder in equal amounts, you can't go wrong with The Alchemist Cookbook.