I keep seeing this billed as a documentary but I don’t feel that at all. Sure, it stars real-life musician/artist Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe but I never got the sense he was appearing as himself. This feels like cinema (yes I know documentaries are cinema too) rather than an account of a subject.
Presented as a loosely connected triptych, A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness can test your patience at times. The lengthy takes alternate between captivating and boring depending on how interesting their focus is. We first find our lead character at a commune in Estonia, then walking alone in a forest in Finland, and finally as the singer at a black metal gig. On paper this sounds like a fascinating way to present a film in abstract. There are countless strong images and an ambient sheet covers everything making it hypnotic but there are also long stretches of dead air. It’s a mixed bag.
I admire the film’s ambition and uncompromising storytelling. I definitely found my attention drifting more times than it was engaged but thinking back on it as a whole, yeah, I liked it. Am I in a rush to see it again? Not at all.