Spirit (2008) – By Cary Conley

Spirit is the first production from St. Lindsey pictures, a company owned by producer/screenwriter David Gwin.  Directed by Mark Wagner, Spirit tells the story of a family in disarray.  What was once a loving and Christian family becomes a dysfunctional family due to a long series of setbacks.  As the family suffers one disaster after another, it is torn apart by divorce, drugs, hate, negativity, and faithlessness.  The one bright spot is Noel (Ashley Bryant), the youngest sibling, who has not given up her faith in God and perseveres to pursue all things light and good, even as she is ridiculed and abused by her brother, sister, and mother.

Due to all the negativity, an evil spirit is able to infiltrate the household, taking possession of each family member in turn, leaving only Noel to fight back and save not only her own life, but the lives of her family.  Does she have the knowledge to beat the crafty demon?  Does she have the nerve to face the forces of darkness?  Or will Dark win over Light?  I won’t give away the ending, but you can see by my description that we have a classic duel between the forces of good and evil in this film.

As with any micro-budget film there are some flaws.  The acting ranges from average to very good, with Ashley Bryant really shining.  She is able to show a range of emotions, from fear to sadness, and even some very nice comedic timing.  The screenplay is decent, but the action sequences—specifically the demon attacks– come across as fairly bland.  There is a scene, required of all demon movies, where the protagonist goes in search of answers only to end up in a church.  As Noel approaches the church door, a woman opens the door to meet her, implying that the woman may be mystical and expected the visit; however, this idea isn’t developed and the viewer is left assuming that maybe it was blind luck that the two characters ran into each other.  Noel meets an African-American woman at the church and quickly explains everything to her, and the mysterious woman has no hesitation in believing Noel’s incredible tale.  This scene brings up several questions:  first, who is this church woman?  She isn’t dressed as a minister, wears no religious jewelry, and looks like a regular layperson.  So how does she know so much about evil forces?  This is never explained.  Secondly, the woman listens to Noel’s story with no surprise or suspicion whatsoever—she just takes the tale as the truth and readily gives Noel the answers she so desperately needs with no investigation or examination of the story whatsoever.  This doesn’t seem like a realistic reaction to me at all.

While I don’t mind a film that expands upon or completely changes the standard mythology for an evil creature (for instance, vampires that can walk around during the daylight or aren’t afraid of crosses), I do expect that new mythology to be standard throughout a film in order to be believable.  An example is when Noel lights a white candle that has been blessed, explaining that the candle will counteract the “dark” forces.  But she is immediately attacked by a demon while holding the candle only to use the candle in the next scene to send a demon away.  In another scene, Noel is able to banish a demon simply by demanding that it go away, but in a later scene, she is locked out of a sliding glass door.  She demands the demon release her brother, but this time her appeals are ignored.  Not only is this unrealistic, but if all one needs is a white candle or a loud, demanding voice to banish demons, then the film won’t be very scary.

There are a few other technical flaws in the film, especially day-for-night shots, along with a couple of muffed lines that probably should have been cleaned up, but there are many high points as well.

As mentioned before, the film exhibits some funny scenes and/or lines and has a good sense of comedic timing, which seems to be a strong suit for screenwriter Gwin.  The special effects are basic, but done very well and the simple optical effects are effective and well-done, too.  In fact, I found the demons quite scary.  The musical score is also very good and is a high point for the film.  Director Mark Wagner also makes excellent use out of the one primary set that is used for probably 90% of the film, keeping things fresh instead of monotonous.

Overall, Spirit is an uneven picture, but for a first feature these filmmakers should be proud.  If you enjoy films that touch upon metaphysics or some good, old-fashioned demon possession, you might enjoy this film.  You can purchase a copy for only $12.80 by heading on over to dvduniverse.com.