Written and directed by Jay Carver
If we learned anything from Masters of Horror, it’s that horror vignettes are hard to pull off. Genre giants like John Carpenter, Joe Dante and Dario Argento struggled with the format and, with a few exceptions, were simply not able to make the platform work; and they had real budgets and a cadre of talent at their disposal.
While the show had promise and did well initially, after the elation of a new horror anthology wore off, the primary complaint from viewers was that the stories were bland, predictable, and really didn’t bring anything new to the table, disappointing considering the body of work from the participants.
The short form is under greater pressure to impress because the condensed format does not allow one time for elaborate set-ups and pay-offs. While a 110-minute film has the luxury of keeping the viewer intrigued with multiple plots and storylines (A Story, B Story and C Story), a short film has one plot and one story on which the entire film lives or dies by, and if it’s average, you’re dead in the water.
Unfortunately, A Bitter Taste of Magic falls into that category. Written and directed by Jay Carver, the story focuses on down and out magician Nick Palmer, whose career has not only hit a dead end, but his money-hungry wife, Jasmine, has started having an affair with a far more successful illusionist named Johnny Dice. While Nick plays to near empty school auditoriums, Johnny Dice has network television specials and appears on the cover of magazines.
While drowning his sorrows at a bar, Nick meets a man who tells him about a woman who may be able to help him get his revenge. Her methods worked for him and Nick should give it a shot. Alleviate some of that pain. He tells Nick how to find her, but before he can tell him the one rule he cannot break if he chooses this path, Nick has to leave.
When Nick goes to see the woman, it turns out she’s a gypsy offering a mystical method of revenge. Nick is familiar with the charlatans and posers who fleece the all too willing and is skeptical of a potion she is offering him. But still, there’s something about her that seems … genuine. He finally gives in to his despair, drinks the potion, and before you can say Freaky Friday, Nick wakes up inside Johnny Dice’s body. A situation that will not only give him his wife back but Dice’s successful career to boot!
Of course, best laid plans go awry when his wife begins to say mean, hurtful things about him (not realizing he now occupies Dice’s body, of course), and when Nick’s heard more than his heart can handle, he strangles her in a jealous rage. But, not to worry, as far as anyone knows, Johnny Dice killed her, not Nick. All he has to do is go back to his own body and it’s all good! Or is it?
Don’t worry; I’m not giving too much away here because you can see the “twist” coming a mile away. It’s a trope we’re overly familiar with, and that’s the problem with A Bitter Taste of Magic. Though well made, it’s pedestrian and predictable. Carver’s script never once attempts to surprise us or make us think there is another possible outcome other than what we’ve already determined. The story simply feels rote and dated.
On the plus side A Bitter Taste of Magic is well made, Jay Carver is clearly a competent filmmaker, and the performances are pretty good for an independent short film. The problem is the story here is simply not interesting.
It’s okay to tell a familiar tale, as long as you’re telling it to us in a way we’ve never seen it told before. Otherwise it’s just like three-day-old bread: stale and lacking flavor.
1 out of 5