Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls is a textbook example of the kind of short-form Internet meme-art that has no business attempting the translation to feature-length film. Based on the viral (at least according to the film’s marketing) online character created by star and director Andrew Bowser, Talisman of Souls is a painfully unfunny experience, a single bit stretched to a criminal 110 minutes. Anyone who scrolls TikTok or farts around on YouTube is likely to have encountered Bowser at some point; some might also know him as the ringleader of Dem Arby’s BoyZ or perhaps as Weird Anime Guy, but it doesn’t matter much — the schtick is the same across all of his characters, Onyx included. Bowser plays them as verbose mega-nerds inclined toward flowery, Dungeon Master-style language, forcing viewers to keep up with the rapid-fire pace of his speaking patterns and plastering his sentences with offkey inflection and ending them all by lengthening syllables, as if the sheer eccentricity of the whole thing were evidence enough of value. Onyx, real name Marcus Trillbury, is also, of course, a Satanist, a schlubby virgin, and a fast food employee whose name tag has read Marquay Dickberry for six years. This is cringe comedy dialed up to the most YMMV degree. Buckle in.
Funded via a Kickstarter campaign, Talisman of Souls fills out its bloated length with a story about how the perpetually bullied Onyx gets a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet his idol, Bartok the Great, and, along with a handful of other forgettable devil worshippers, summon a demon. From here, complications obviously arise — not all is what it seems, who can be trusted, what is really going on, etc. — but what’s clearly meant to be a charming bit of low-budget, no-pretense nostalgia bait (specifically tapping into a deeply ‘80s nerdcore vibe) is mostly just a series of endless instances that afford Bowser the platform to spew some new nonsense at warp speed. There’s no denying that the occasional line hits, and the film opens with an admittedly chuckle-inducing prayer of sorts: “Greetings, oh masterful one. I am but a lowly minion sitting here before you, criss-cross applesauce” — but when every minute boasts a dozen or more bids for this kind of weirdo quotability (there’s very little here that qualifies as an actual joke), the success rate remains fatally low and the experience demonstrably exhausting.
That’s not to say this absurdist assault won’t work for some viewers: those dialed-in to the film’s comedic style won’t find it to be the crutch that others will see it as, and at its filmic best, there’s an old-school Burton-esque quality to the lightly goth-goof trappings of the production design and effects work. But even that take is undermined by the lackluster technical craft and genre bona fides. There’s no gore to speak of, and the “haunted house” setting is undone by overlit spaces and a garish color palette that lend the film more of a Spooky Season Disney Channel Original Movie feel. And therein lies the essential problem: even if one were inclined to subject themselves to this kind of humor for an unjustifiable two hours — presumably in the pursuit of camp delights — Talisman of Souls never feels like it legitimately attempts the jump to the film medium, instead keeping its ambitions too meager, its style too bland, and its horseplay too unvaried. At a story level, this feels like a D-level spec script written with 2003-era Will Ferrell in mind, and in execution it feels far more like sketch comedy spread thin as butter on toast than a justified feature-length glow-up for the Onyx character. It’s tough to want to be too harsh on the project, as Bowser has clear affection for the character and isn’t an unfunny performer in his own right, but the sheer saturation of affect is going to be a tough swallow for most viewers. The best chance Talisman of Souls has to remain within the cultural consciousness is to upkeep its production of 10-second clips circulating on social media, which is where meme content like this belongs in the first place.
DIRECTOR: Andrew Bowser; CAST: Andrew Bowser, Jeffrey Combs, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Barbara Crampton; DISTRIBUTOR: Cineverse; IN THEATERS: October 19; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 48 min.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 5.