The Alchemist Cookbook (2016)

Sean is a young man who lives alone in a trailer in the woods. He spends much of his day conducting semi-scientific experiments from an occult-looking book in his trailer’s improvised laboratory. He takes breaks to goof around in the woods, rock out to punk and hip-hop, stuff himself with Doritos and Gatorade, and love on his kitty-cat (his only companion). The only interruptions to his solitude are supply runs delivered by increasingly concerned family member Cortez. Eventually a combination of paranoia, probable mental illness, and possible paranormal activity pile up and bad shit happens. In a movie with so little in the way of actual incident, it doesn’t feel right to give more detail than that before viewing.


Ty Hickson gives a fantastic performance as Sean. Considering most of the first half of the movie consists of watching Sean dick around and live his weird isolationist life, a poor performance would have ruined the movie. The joy and playfulness he exudes jumping on downed trees or dancing around in Christmas lights draw you into his little world, and provide a contrast with the darker stuff that follows.


Joel Potrykus’ direction and some effectively creepy sound design do a good job of building tension and fear. The movie fell apart a bit for me right at the very end, but it wasn’t enough to ruin my enjoyment of the rest of the movie. I was excited for this film because I loved Potrykus’ previous film Buzzard, but that kind of anticipation can always lead to disappointment. This movie wasn’t a disappointment, thankfully, but it was a slight step down from Buzzard for me.

After seeing two of Potrykus’ films, I can say a few things about him: He gets excellent performances from his lead actors, even when there is no one else around for them to react to. He has an obvious affection for and understanding of his weirdo protagonists. These movies could easily be freak/geek shows where the audience laughs at or recoils from the lead characters, but Potrykus always manages to capture the little moments of fun or frustration that make his characters feel relatable instead of resorting to caricature. They might make increasingly bad decisions, but even at their most pathetic or dangerous they still maintain their humanity.

He can also make the simple act of eating look disgusting in a way I have not seen many others achieve. Sometimes its funny, sometimes its disturbing, and at one point in Buzzard it becomes almost transcendent. I do not advise eating while watching his movies!

Potrykus did a bit of an experimental release for this film initially, letting people pay whatever they wanted to buy it through BitTorrent. That was how I watched it, but since then it has become available through normal digital rental services, and it is currently streaming free if you have a subscription to Amazon Prime or Shudder. So, if you are the kind of person who enjoys creeping dread in minimalist horror movies, check this out! If you like movies about eccentric characters on the fringes of society, then watch both this and Buzzard (which is about a 20-something slacker who attempts to go on the run when he is worried that his boss is on to the low-level scam he is running at his temp job). Buzzard is also free for subscribers on Amazon Prime, Sundance Now, and Fandor.