The first feature-film collaboration between celebrated artist-filmmakers Ben Rivers (Two Years at Sea) and Ben Russell (Let Each One Go Where He May) follows a nameless protagonist (played by musician Robert AA Lowe) as he explores three very different existential options: as a member of a commune on a small Estonian island; living alone in the breathtaking wilds of northern Finland; and fronting a neo-pagan black metal band in Norway.
A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness
Ben Rivers, Ben Russell
The close collaboration between internationally celebrated artist-filmmakers Ben Rivers (Two Years at Sea) and Ben Russell (Let Each One Go Where He May) has yielded an intriguing ethno-trance aesthetic that finds its stunning summa in their much anticipated co-directed feature A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness. An immersive, at times mesmerizing experience, Spell follows a nameless protagonist — played with Bressonian restraint by musician Robert A.A. Lowe, of Lichens and Om fame — as he explores three markedly different existential options: as a member of a fifteen-person commune on a small Estonian island; living alone in the breathtaking wilds of northern Finland; and as a singer-guitarist for a neopagan black metal band in Norway.
Shot on Super 16mm by Rivers, Russell and Chris Fawcett (the Steadicam operator for Let Each One), Spell is awash in atmosphere, bathed successively in natural, incandescent sunshine, the blues of a perpetual magic hour, and the stroboscopic concert lighting of a dingy bar. Liberated from conventional narrative causality, Robert's trajectory charts a continuous drift (superbly conveyed by a floating camera) that signals a radical investigation of the self, an enigmatic effort to "ward off the darkness" that is engulfing our increasingly secularized world. Is this a search for fulfillment, mutual understanding, a gesture to quell boredom and unremitting solitude, an affront to utopianism, or simply a natural progression through life?
Choreographing the movements of their
non-actors, Rivers and Russell explore a
participatory ethnography with both their
real-life characters and us, the viewers,
drawing deeply from the elemental in order
to shake us from our viewing habits. Bound
by the structures that inevitably dictate
our lives, it's easy to forget that the world
is vast and ripe with possibilities, and that
we should probably attempt a few alternate
modes of existence before we leave this