SXSW FILM 2016
By Don Simpson | March 18, 2016
Director: Joel Potrykus
Writer: Joel Potrykus
Starring: Ty Hickson, Amari Cheatom
Joel Potrykus’ The Alchemist Cookbook expands further upon the social deviants of his initial trilogy (Coyote, Ape, Buzzard). Sean’s (Ty Hickson) racial identity may differentiate him from his Caucasian predecessors in Potrykus’ cinematic universe, but his financial situation and destructive inclinations reveal that he is definitely one of their kin.
The primary difference between Sean and his predessessors is that while they lived in a constant state of conflict with the society that continued to engulf them, Sean has exiled himself to a secluded trailer in the forest. Sean’s only remaining lifeline to the outside world comes in the form of periodic deliveries of groceries and supplies by his cousin, Cortez (Amari Cheatom). (Note: one of Cortez’s deliveries sets up the best The Long Goodbye reference in the history of cinema, and that is surprisingly not the only tie to Robert Altman’s film.)
Heavily reliant upon medication, Sean wrestles with paranoia (perhaps schizophrenia?); even while medicated, he suggests an ever-growing hatred of other people. Sean is perfectly content existing only in the company of his cat Kaspar. Sean seems to enjoy his seclusion, spending most of his days experimenting with chemistry and listening to a pretty diverse collection of cassette tapes. The intensity of his experiments suggests that he probably has an end goal in mind; he is trying to concoct something, we just do not know what.
The political subtext in The Alchemist Cookbook takes on the inherent alienation of Capitalism, presenting us with a character whose race, socioeconomic position and mental health has deemed his life hopeless. In this context, Sean’s paranoia is not all that unreasonable; Sean is not all that off-base in thinking his only remaining chance at happiness is to form a Faustian partnership with the Devil. Unlike Potrykus’ other characters, whose socioeconomic positions seem more self-ordained, it is difficult not to sympathize with Sean. We certainly cannot blame Sean for the cards that he was dealt.
While some have labeled The Alchemist Cookbook a horror film, it could easily be argued that this film completely defies genre. This is a unique vision of one of the most intriguing young auteurs in American independent cinema. With this film, Potrykus has grown leaps & bounds as a director (that is by no means a discredit to his trilogy). The Alchemist Cookbook is the complete package with amazing casting (Ty Hickson’s performance is transformative in every sense of the word), screenplay (Potrykus), cinematography (Adam J. Minnick), production design (Michael Lapp), editing (Potrykus), and sound design (including soundtrack and original score).
(This is a film that will most likely get bumped up to a perfect 10 out of 10 rating after additional screenings.)