Somewhere in the Michigan woods, a hobby alchemist lives in a trailer with his cat. He spends his time experimenting with things from the Alchemist Cookbook. He has a friend who visits him with supplies now and then, but this time he forgot to bring medicine. Our alchemist is slowly descending into madness...
Joel Potrykus is becoming something of a Film Bizarro favorite after his fantastic Animal trilogy ("Coyote", "Ape" and "Buzzard") that he made together with actor Joshua Burge. With "The Alchemist Cookbook" he is not working with Joshua Burge. I wouldn't say that I was worried when Joshua Burge didn't have a role in this, but Joel and Joshua will forever feel connected as a classic filmmaking duo to me. Hell, it's just because Joshua played the parts so perfectly that it would be hard to find a more appropriate actor for these movies. Or at least that's what I thought until I saw Ty Hickson in the role of Sean in "The Alchemist Cookbook".
Like the previous work by Joel Potrykus, a loner gets into some weird shit in "The Alchemist Cookbook". Sean lives in a trailer, alone and deep in the woods of Michigan. He's obsessing over finding an answer to an ancient mystery - and so he spends all his time experimenting until he succeeds. One day his friend comes over with a restock of supplies, but he forgot the most important part: the eggs... and Sean's medicine. Sean's obsession of succeeding with his experiment becomes something that haunts him. It becomes something tangible out there in the woods. And Sean suspects that it might be coming for him.
What surprised me the most when I first got to experience Joel Potrykus work, was how it managed to be somewhere between a serious drama, wacko comedy, and absurdist horror. "Ape" was not a horror movie so you're definitely surprised by the oddities that awaited you in it. "The Alchemist Cookbook" is no different. This is a deliberately slow drama comedy (without the comedy it would be too dreary!), but the calm, oddball nature of the movie is getting more creepy and absurd. It's a movie that isn't scared to spend time to build atmosphere or hold onto takes longer than you expect it to just so that you can feel as lonely as Sean. It is also not a movie that is afraid of making you laugh. It does this while also making you paranoid. We know that Sean is off his medicine, but could whatever is out there in the woods be real? Is it coming for him? The line between drama and horror is never actually crossed. It remains a drama - an absurd, comedic and horrory drama.
When I said that Joshua Burge felt irreplaceable in Joel Potrykus world, I wasn't lying. I'm also not lying when I say that Ty Hickson is just as perfect. He fits his role in "The Alchemist Cookbook" as well as Joshua did in the past movies. It's lucky that this is the case, because this is a director who makes movies that rests almost entirely on one actor, and it's not simple movies to begin with. Amari Cheatom plays the friend and his character brings in some reality to Sean's world, but not without his own kooky persona. Amari also has the honor of playing a very dark version of his character at some point, which is when the movie borders on the surreal.
This movie is an original. It might take inspiration from elsewhere, but the experience that I get out of watching "The Alchemist Cookbook" is like nothing else. It's a brooding descent into madness done in an indie dramedy landscape. It builds up a quiet world out in the woods, and is just waiting to tear it all down. Not with excess, but with effective measures. It might start as a subtle sound or a look from Sean, and then snap back to reality, but it always returns back into madness again until we're not longer sure what's real. "The Alchemist Cookbook", and the rest of Joel's filmography, is exactly what I want out of independent filmmaking.
If you're one of the lucky who has watched "The Alchemist Cookbook" at Fantasia International Film Festival this year, or any other festival where it has been playing, then you hopefully know what I am talking about. This is the third feature I have seen from Joel Potrykus, and the third that I love. This cements him as one of my absolute favorite new filmmakers, and hopefully you will all give him the attention he deserves.