Andrew Bowser’s Onyx the Fortuitous character has been memetic for a while. You probably recognize him from trolling news reporters at varying events. The “notice me senpai” guy. You know the one.
After years of trolling news teams and creating shorts, Bowser finally took the leap of creating a feature length film around the character, Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls, which I was fortunate to screen via the Fantasia Film Festival.
Now, in most cases, I think this is an approach that yields pretty dismal results. Inexperienced filmmakers try to scrounge together enough crowdfunded money to push out some uninteresting claptrap that outstays its welcome far too quickly, even with fans. I am immensely pleased to say that is not the case with Onyx. At least for my mileage.
The story is a relatively basic setup for a horror comedy: a “patty-slinging” fast-food employee wins the chance to do an occult ritual with his idol, a stand-in for Aleister Crowley at his spooky mansion with five others. But of course, things are not as they seem.
Through both intention and happenstance Bowser manages to really just NAIL some of my personal soft-spots with this film. The lovable loser cliche, for example, is given new life for me by focusing on a character that seems very much like a loving jab at a past-self. I can’t say for sure whether Bowser is pulling from his own childhood, but there's no denying that I recognize the try-hard social ineptitude from the titular character. My own dalliances with what passes for ‘edgy’ in the suburbs is given the perfect amount of both derision and love. As a prolific self-deprecator, Onyx strikes me as a character made as way of taking cringe-inducing memories from childhood, re-absorbing them by laughing at them and recognizing that they are part of you still. It feels oddly like an act of self care.
This is a film that by most metrics really should wear out it’s jokes by end of act one. The movie packs quite a bit of comedy in, layering subtle visual jokes in with the surface dialogue-based quips frequently. It’s clearly aiming for the neighborhood of Big Trouble In Little China, tone-wise and visually. Just one look at Jeffrey Combs’s turn as Bartok makes that abundantly clear. These characters are Saturday morning cartoon characters, more often than not. It’s cartoonishly wicked, and delightful.
Not since Psycho Goreman (2020) have I seen such fun and ridiculous practically achieved creature effects. The ghoul-type creatures strongly resemble puppets used in Return of the Living Dead (1985), with elongated mouths, green skin and milky eyes. They bumble around dimly, creating nice kinetic background gags for scenes where larger story beats happen. And that’s just one creature. These practical effects kick ass.
Which leads me to my next bias: this film is absolutely 1000% for horror dorks like myself. The appearances of genre darlings Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs are enough proof of that alone, but add in endless homages and references to genre favorites big and small and you’ve got a clear love for all things horror hardwired into the DNA here.
This is not a perfect film, by any means. Some of the acting is a little wooden, a few of the jokes don’t land quite right, and the self-justifying lore got a bit onerous (I genuinely did not need to see the origin of Onyx’s tick of rapid-firing the phrase “I dunno” for example).
But while it’s not perfect for everyone, I think it’s quite strong for horror fans, especially those capable of not being too self-serious or snobbish. And it’s certainly got MY number. I am excited to see what Bowser does next, both with the Onyx character and perhaps in a more straightforward horror film. Loving the genre won’t get you all the way to the promised land, but if this film is any indication, it sure is a powerful energy source… if you can weild it well.
PS: I must mention, as a die-hard fan of the album Bat Out Of Hell, the Meat Loaf inspired moments completely cracked open my bias-brain and made me beam with joy. So I leave you with this.