In previous decades, popular characters accidentally took over the movies. Some of these films became legendary, like Ernest Scare Stupid or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Others disappeared from view, a fate that often befell the SNL movie. However, with the YouTube generation finding themselves with the sway to create content with high budgets, new sketch characters could take over the film world. In the case of Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls, we’ve landed in the best hands. Director, writer, and actor Andrew Bowser took his assignment exceptionally seriously. Based on his popular character YouTube character, Bowser crafts an impressively entertaining throwback to character-driven comedies of the 1980s and 1990s.
Marcus, a.k.a. Onyx (Bowser) lives at home and works at a local fast-food chain. In his free time, he worships Bartok the Great (Jeffrey Combs), a purveyor of occult teachings. When Onyx submits an application to join Bartok as his mansion for a special event, he’s thrilled to get the invite. Once there, he meets a handful of like-minded fans (Rivkah Reyes, Arden Myrin, Terrence ‘T.C.’ Carson, and Melinda Chandra). However, the group finds their trip is far more than they’ve asked for.
It would not be unreasonable to question if Onyx the Fortituitious could not sustain the character’s fast-talking bit in a feature-length movie. However, Bowser comes out swinging, making Onyx the subject of the jokes as often as the one telling them. Bowser plays to the crowd, quoting lines from popular horror franchises and winking at his YouTube fandom with catchphrases. Rather than make Onyx the obvious hero, they paint the character as a good-hearted oaf. Despite his penchant for the dark occult, he’s the least skilled character in the room. This also makes him an underdog, the best decision in the film. It’s much easier to root for someone with the deck stacked against them.
Bowser then lets his actors go to work. He delivers exactly what you expect from an Onyx movie, letting him spew weirdly personal nerdy facts. While he delivers jokes, the rest of the crew fits into easy-to-understand horror stereotypes. Reyes shows off as the competent member of the cast (both as a performer and character). They get to shine in nearly every scene, and Onyx quickly establishes a friendship. Carson uses his booming voice to prove he’s knowledgable, and Myrin strikes comedic gold as the mini-van mom turned satanist. Olivia Taylor Dudley also thrives as the witch foil, whose ever-changing allegiances open the door for future shenanigans.
In truth, Onyx the Fortuitous gets its biggest boost from its devotion to latex monster movies. As the film progresses, the creature design becomes essential. There are undead monsters, demons, and dark creatures that all need to feel real. Yet, Onyx frames them as silly or absurd monsters. These creatures would fit in Beetlejuice or Ghostbusters without the audience batting an eye. Yet it’s clear this is a tribute, not a way of cheapening the film. Ultimately, this alone would win me over, but in tandem with the throwback “character we all know ends up in this crazy situation” narrative, Onyx the Fortuitous proves to have more purpose than one might have guessed.
What Bowser does next will be intriguing. There’s a certain horror streaming service that should be the perfect landing place to help Onyx find a long-term audience. After genuinely enjoying this good-hearted comedy, turning this into a franchise would be a welcomed surprise. If the cast is down, Bowser seems like the type who may build a cult franchise. While it will not be everyone’s cup of tea, this is likely the film from Sundance 2023 that I’m most excited to work into the Halloween rotation.