Fantasia Review: Black Magic For White Boys

The latest from Onur Tukel is his most rambling and pointed

No one makes genre films like Onur Tukel. His genius is in taking a mundane situation, inserting a genre trope (vampires, serial killers, genetic modification) and making the scenario even more mundane and prosaic.

His characters are the converse of superheroes. Not the reverse, because those are supervillains: both heroes and villains see their powers as a way to change the world, and they are merely divided by morality. Inhabitants of Tukel's worlds look at their new ability and think, "Well, yeah, but what do I get out of it?"

There's a pettiness to his players, and Black Magic for White Boys is his broadest canvas of mediocre humans yet. The Macguffin this time is a book of spells, in the possession of a third-tier stage magician called Larry (Ronald Guttman). With the book in his hands, the uncanny nature of the universe at his beck and call, what is his grand design? To become a second tier stage magician, using the one trick at his disposal - making people disappear.

And that's the target of Tukel's low key savagery: People who think that ignoring their problems will make them go away. As the book passes to others – a scummy real estate investor, and a no-good trust fund baby (Tukel himself, leaning into the inherent self-hatred and self-critique of the text) – they're all so unimaginative that they all just do the same spell, for their own mediocre ends.

Black Magic for White Boys has been completely rebuilt since its origins as an episodic series, and its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017. Now it's an Altman-esque ensemble piece, closest to the Tukel-penned script for Bob Byington's Infinity Baby. Digressions become the plot: minor figures get redemption arcs while the leads circle in their own nothings. Tukel, the Brueghel of Brooklyn, deliberately eschews a single focal point character or even resolutions. It's in the whole - the stepping back - that his intent is revealed. It's not streamlined, but somehow it's still graceful, a convoluted landscape rather than a portrait, touching on hot button topics like men and abortion, racial profiling and gentrification, as well as more universal themes like emotional laziness. We may not like everything Tukel shows us about ourselves, but we can never deny its truth.

Fantasia Festival in Montreal runs through Aug. 1. We'll be running reviews to give you a first glimpse at some of the underground and genre titles you'll be seeing in the months ahead.

Got opinions about movie theatres, video games, podcasts, and everything else good in Austin? Let your voice be heard in our annual Best of Austin ballot. Voting is open now!

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Richard Whittaker
Other Worlds Celebrates 40th Anniversary of <i>Time After Time</i>
Other Worlds Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Time After Time
Fest to honor Nicholas Meyer, director of the beloved chrono-romance

Aug. 15, 2019

The Angry Birds Movie 2
The birds are back, with an added subversive twist

Aug. 16, 2019


Fantasia 2019, Onur Tukel, Black Magic for White Boys

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Time to vote! Best of Austin 2019 balloting is underway   VOTE NOW