Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls had its international première at the Glasgow FrightFest 2023.
When a film comes with a title like Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls, it is announcing its generic affiliations to the fantasy realm. Yet the title character Onyx the Fortuitous is in fact Marcus J. Trillbury, an arrested kidult – still living in the home of his mother Nancy (Barbara Crampton) and disapproving stepfather Todd (Ryan Stanger), still flipping burgers at Marty’s Meat Hut (the kind of establishment passed through on the way to a better job, but where Marcus has been working for six years), still lost in puerile fixations with kids’ TV cartoon ‘BattleKatts’ (whose children’s lunchbox accessory he carries with him everywhere), action figures, fan fiction, LARPing and cosplay, and still very much a virgin.
Marcus is a figure of fun, the kind of basement-dwelling, absurdity-spouting incel familiar from the darker corners of the internet – yet he is also here drawn sympathetically. Sweet, surreally sincere, seemingly on the spectrum, and, despite a growing preoccupation with Satanism, entirely innocent, Marcus is still suffering abandonment issues since the departure of his father when he was a little boy (Shane McCormick). Even the phrase “I dunno” which peppers his weird rants like a nervous tic turns out to have a tragic origin, rooted in the abiding trauma of his father’s brusque exit. So the flipside of Marcus’ hilarious nerdiness is a deep neediness. Unhappy with the reality of a friendless life spent slinging patties, cleaning cat poop, being endlessly hectored by Todd and bullied by his peers, Marcus has retreated into fantasy as his only escape, on what is, at least in his head, an epic quest for heroic self-realisation – and of course for daddy.
Marcus is also a persona created by Andrew Bowser, who has appeared in character offering his ridiculously earnest commentary at all manner of comic conventions and game launches, and made the bearded über-geek a viral internet sensation in the process. Now with Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls, Bowser takes Marcus and places him in the kind of fantasy scenario that Onyx himself might – and possibly does – dream up. Long a devotee, if mostly for the music, of satanist Bartok the Great (Jeffrey Combs), Marcus is invited with four other fans – Mack (Rivkah Reyes), Mr Duke (Terrence ’T.C.’ Carson), Shelley (Arden Myrin) and Jesminder (Melanie Chandra) – to participate in a demon-raising ritual at Bartok’s isolated castle, with immortality promised as the reward. Even as Marcus looks up to Bartok as a surrogate father, Bartok and his green-eyed assistant Farrah (Olivia Taylor Dudley) are treacherously exploiting their guests to their own nefarious ends. All this will lead Marcus to a crux – a choice between being true to his friends and himself, or giving in to temptation for a life of untold sex and power – and so our oddball hero’s coming of age will see him being defined by his actions and truly becoming Onyx, all in a universe of demons and destiny, magic and hocus pocus where Marcus seems, for once, not to be a total misfit.
Along the way there are endless references to nerd culture, an improbable reconstruction of the music video for Meatloaf’s I’d Do Anything For Love, and a conjuring of the final scene from Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988) – whose overall tone of light gothic frivolity is shared by Bowser’s film. Yet what will make Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls appeal to many viewers is also its biggest problem. Marcus/Onyx may now be an established cult figure with a popular online following, but he is also more a one-note joke than an actual, believable and therefore relatable character – and his schtick, funny in a sketch, starts to pall in a longer narrative scenario. Marcus’ loneliness and sense of rejection may lend him pathos, but they are never quite enough to humanise him, or to make him someone with whom we can truly engage. In the end, it is not clear whether he has really found himself new friends and family in a castle home, or has just fully succumbed to a wish-fulfilment fantasy which the viewer too briefly entertains with him. We are, finally, in Onyx’s world – and in Onyx’s mind – here, but should never forget that other, less fanciful reality where Marcus lives.
strap: Andrew Bowser’s comedy horror lets an arrested incel act out his occult fantasies.
© Anton Bitel