Burnett's ambitious blend of folklore and family feuding opens startlingly: Gideon, an elderly black paterfamilias, sits unflinching as a conflagration slowly engulfs first his feet, then his body, to the soulful gospel strains of 'Precious Memories'. The scene, at once baffling, poignant and absurd, is a fine indication of the hybrid vision that follows. Emerging from his hallucination to a waking nightmare, Gideon (Butler) finds his family threatened with destruction. Catalysing the domestic turmoil is Harry Mention (Glover), a brooding, malevolent charmer whose mystique stems from a professed allegiance to the ancient forces of darkness, and whose arrival sows dissent between Gideon's sons, threatening his patriarchal role and even, perhaps, his life. Poised between mystical fantasy and humdrum melodrama, the film muses on the complex relationship between present and past, while remaining firmly grounded in a linear (yet ghostly) narrative. Despite uncertain pacing, Burnett's evocation of a thriving cultural milieu that embraces both superstition and mysterious wisdom is almost flawless. Laughs, too, are frequent and full-blooded. For those who fall under the film's spell, the rewards are magical.
Cast and crew
Sheryl Lee Ralph