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Sundance 2023: ‘Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls’ Review

Andrew Bowser appears in Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls by Andrew Bowser, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

If you had a YouTube account circa 2016, the name “Onyx the Fortuitous” might ring a bell. Perhaps more familiar to casual audiences as “Weird ___ Guy” (fill in the blank – Arbys, Satanist, Gamer, etc.), Andrew Bowser’s Onyx the Fortuitous is an awkward, horror-obsessed, and (oh yeah) Satan-worshipping YouTube personality that’s garnered millions upon millions of views. After numerous web series and shorts featuring the uniquely-costumed and catchphrase-laden character, Onyx’s latest endeavor is his most ambitious yet: a feature-length horror-comedy.

Though the eponymous character’s particular brand of humor may not be for all tastes, Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls is a well-crafted homage to classic ’80s horror and fantasy, combining impressive practical effects and a solid script to create a charming genre romp/cult favorite in the making.

Starring Andrew Bowser (who also serves as director, writer, and editor) as the title character, Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls follows Onyx, an aspiring Satan worshipper/fast food worker whose world is turned upside down when he wins a contest being held by his idol, Bartok the Great (Jeffrey Combs). Given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit Bartok’s mansion, Onyx and a ragtag group of fledgling Satan worshippers (Terrence C Carson, Rivkah Reyes, Arden Myrin, Melanie Chandra) assemble to perform a demonic ritual, unaware of the larger forces at work.

It would be impossible to review anything Onyx without acknowledging the character’s specific brand of humor—Onyx’s verbal ticks, nervous hand-wringing, and frequent run-ons will make him an annoying protagonist to many, though the film makes no apologies about his unorthodox habits and unique speech patterns. Instead, after presenting this character as the butt of the joke for years, Onyx the Fortuitous takes the opportunity to give the wannabe-Satan-worshipping new dimension and depth: elevating him beyond mere internet meme and into the realm of bona fide hero.

And a hero he is—in everything from the score to the costume design to the casting, Onyx the Fortuitous is a film that seeks to emulate and pay homage to classic ’80s horror, fantasy, and adventure films that feature an unlikely hero finding out he’s destined for greatness. Though it may not seem like a perfect fit of a story to give to a character that began as a viral meme, it’s a choice that pays off tremendously for the film as a whole.

There’s a refreshing persistence in how Onyx the Fortuitous legitimizes its protagonist, refusing to let him exist as “just an internet character” and instead taking deliberate measures to create a story that feels both true to Onyx and believable for a horror-fantasy lead. Make no mistake: This is still Onyx we’re talking about, and the film’s script is jam-packed with the type of crude and puerile humor often found in the character’s YouTube shorts, but the jokes are merged remarkably well with a conventional genre adventure.

And the adventure itself is a solid one, featuring a mysterious mentor (played by genre legend Jeffrey Combs, no less), a bejeweled macguffin, a seductive femme fatale (Olivia Dudley), and a tome holding a prophecy of Onyx’s greatness. Of course, the film is shaped with a demonic flair, and Satan-worshipping aesthetic overlays the familiar conventions (costume designer Hanna Aaronson’s work gives the film a particularly whimsical-yet-spooky flavor), and the script is full of ’80s homages—most visibly 1985’s Re-Animator (Onyx reunites frequent collaborators Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton) and 1988’s Beetlejuice.

Combs’ and Crampton’s casting in particular lends Onyx the Fortuitous some serious genre credibility. The former serves as the dastardly Bartok (who meets a rather Re-Animator-remisinicent ending), while Crampton features as Onyx’s mother, Nancy. Both bring customary panache to their roles, but the script gives particular material for Combs to play to his strengths and get theatrical with some of his longer monologues.

The soul-sucked victims of the demonic entity are brought to life (or rather, death) via remarkable puppetry courtesy of an extensive special effects department, including Adam Doughtrey’s KreatureKid. The film also boasts a visual and pacing flair courtesy of Bowser’s editing and Dan Adlerstein’s cinematography (the latter of whom aided first-time feature director Bowser in numerous aspects of production), which further adds personality to a frequently visited structure.

Though it may not be particularly frightening or all-too-risque, Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls’ particular brand of character-driven humor and affection/reverence for classic ’80s genre films makes for a winning combination, and this Sundance Midnights selection is a hidden gem that will only endear itself further upon repeat viewings.

(featured image: courtesy of the Sundance Institute)

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Lauren Coates is a Chicago-based film & television critic and freelance journalist who works as a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. You can find her on Twitter @laurenjcoates and read more of her work on Culturess.