FILMOCRACY FEST III 2022 REVIEW! Director/writer Steve Balderson’s Alchemy of the Spirit is a gothic deconstruction of death, art, and mystery. At its core, it is a love story but told with an understanding of the supernatural and ascension. In the twilight of his life, Oliver (Xander Berkeley) awakes to discover his wife and partner, Evelyn (Sarah Clarke), has died in her sleep. Unable to accept his life without her, Oliver makes every effort to preserve his wife. He lugs bags of ice up the stairs to a bathtub where he is trying to maintain Evelyn’s body in their empty, aging artist’s lair, which sits on a lake, and it is fall.
Balderson carefully presents and meticulously creates an atmosphere for Oliver to realize death and the unknown. Alchemy of the Spirit is beautifully presented even though it appears as if there’s little happening. The color, light, and lack of detail are multiple layers of thought-provoking cinema. It is an authentic experience where the art of film and visual storytelling are present and effective. To add, Berkeley’s acting is without flaw providing another layer to unpack.
There are routines between Oliver and Evelyn, such as taking pills and egg deliveries, which are now broken. Yet, in this seemingly empty existence, Evelyn’s movement to another dimension has a stream of light. Balderson uses light streams to create an ethereal character who will spend five days with her husband before she enters a new realm. With that timeline, the filmmaker allows Oliver to work, learn, and listen to his spouse’s last thoughts and understandings. Then, through well-planned and thought-out sound effects and a buildup of many visuals, the director presents an underlying ticking clock toward an ending, which is in question — is this a dream, reality, life, or what?
“Unable to accept his life without her, Oliver makes every effort to preserve his wife.”
At one point in Alchemy of the Spirit, Oliver is in town for more ice and is overcome with hypersensitivity to electricity and paranoia about everyone around him. It’s as if he is living in a vacuum, but a sense of change and a parallel universe is transcending, and his life will never be the same because Evelyn is ascending. There are many of these moments of realization or sublime existence that Balderson presents through sound and cinematic construction.
When his art agent Alex (Mink Stole) calls with a commission of a lifetime, Oliver commits to a sculpture of his wife, only it’s her in the supernatural state of death. The artist arrives at his masterpiece through an intense process of plastering, molding, and shaping. However, there are demons that he faces while creating his life’s work, even though his wife is guiding him through her transcendence. There are voices and trippy effects that offer a sense of fear and the unknown that death is present to all. There’s also a philosophical questioning of what is happening, “it’s describing a color you have never seen or in another language,” says Evelyn. A poignant point about what it truly means and how there’s no description for what is happening.
Alchemy of the Spirit is a spiritual death film. Balderson covers every detail of the phases of death to the spirit world, from fall spirit guides as chapters within the film to using light as a paintbrush to create an ambiance between life and afterlife existence. Most of all, Balderson moves Oliver’s character into a somnambulistic state of being where day, night, and dreaming are combined, providing a gothic, mysterious, and dramatic artistic world.
In addition, Alchemy of the Spirit offers an in-depth understanding of actuality and spirit, where a rip in a canvas bleeds, which Oliver feels but continues to work and change. At the same time, Evelyn prepares herself and him for the next existence—it is an intimate journey that Balderson makes haunting, beautiful, and extraordinary.
Alchemy of the Spirit screened at the 2022 Filmocracy Fest III.
"…it is an intimate journey that Balderson makes haunting, beautiful, and extraordinary."