Fantasia 2016 Review: The Alchemist Cookbook

Ty Hickson plays would-be alchemist Sean in Joel Potrykus's film The Alchemist Cookbook. The film is being shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.
Ty Hickson plays would-be alchemist Sean in The Alchemist Cookbook, written and directed by Joel Potrykus. The film is being shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.



Sean (Ty Hickson) is a young man living in an old-fashioned trailer in the middle of the leafless woods, with his cat, Kaspar, as his only companion. Sean spends his days eating Doritos and cooking mysterious substances in his makeshift lab. With the gas mask and all, you might think he’s running a drug lab, but no, the quantities are way too small for that and he’s trying new things all the time.

A chat with his friend Cortez (Amari Cheatom), and the film’s title itself tell us what Sean’s really up to; the age-old quest to “turn dross into gold.” And he does have a book of some sort. It might contain recipes – or they might be closer to spells, incantations. And about that cat – have you heard of “familiars”?

Even though Sean has a gas mask, he doesn’t always wear it. Who knows what nefarious things he might be taking into his lungs and his brain? We’re given a clue that his hold on reality might have been weak to begin with – he takes medication for something, and he’s devastated when Cortez forgets to bring more. Because of this, we can’t know if the events we see onscreen are real or just Sean’s interpretations of reality.

Sean likes to play his music loud while working and he has wide ranging tastes that include rap, opera and Christmas tunes that sound like they were taped off the radio back in the 1940s. He’s got the Christmas lights to go with them, too!

Sometimes Sean sits in a rowboat on a small lake, sometimes he sets traps for small animals. (Are opussums weird looking, or what?) We have no idea how long Sean has been out there in the woods, and by now, maybe he doesn’t either, though there are a lot of scratches on a tree, that might or might not mark the passage of time. They could just as well be messages to the creatures that live in the woods. We don’t know what those creatures are but we hear them bellow now and then.

The Alchemist Cookbook doesn’t have a lot of conventional plot, but actor Ty Hickson can hold our attention very well without one. His interactions with Amari Cheatom spice things up further.

The Alchemist Cookbook, written and directed by Joel Potrykus, with Ty Hickson, Amari Cheatom, 82 minutes long, in English. See it at the Fantasia International Film Festival Thursday, July 21, 2016. at 5:10 at the J.A. de Sève Theatre of Concordia University, 14500 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

DirectorJoel Potrykus will be there to answer questions, discuss his influences, and maybe challenge audience members to do something out of the ordinary.

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